HOUSTON, Sam (1793-1863), First President of the Republic of Texas, Senator, Governor. Daguerreotype photographic portrait of the 70-year-old Texas patriot, PROBABLY THE LAST PORTRAIT OF HOUSTON BEFORE HIS DEATH, by an unknown dauguerreotypist [possibly by J.H. Stephen Stanley, of Houston, Texas, on or about 18 March 1863.] Sixth-plate daguerreotype, 2 5/16 x 2 1/8 in oval brass surround, in original reddish-brown leather-covered daguerreotype case (3 11/16 x 3 1/8 in.), the plate with stamped frame of gilt foil with ornate borders, facing felt-lined cover, exterior with scroll and foliage decoration characteristic of the period, original brass clasps and catches, oxidation to edges of image, exterior of case rubbed, the two covers separated, otherwise in very good condition.
SAM HOUSTON IN 1863: THE NEWLY DISCOVERED LAST PORTRAIT OF THE FOUNDER OF TEXAS
A unique cased image, previously unknown, depicting the venerable Texas patriot Sam Houston shortly before his death on July 29, 1863 at the age of 70. By this date, Houston had devoted 30 years to the service of Texas, first as a military leader (it was under his command that Santa Anna was defeated at San Jacinto), then as a delegate to the Texas Constitutional Convention, as the First President of the Republic of Texas (for two terms), as Senator (three terms), and, from 1859, as Governor. In 1860, Houston, a nationally prominent figure, had run a close second to John Bell of Tennessee for the Union party nomination for President, but before the inauguration of Lincoln, on 1 February 1861, Texas voted overwhelmingly to secede from the Union in spite of Governor Houston's vigorous opposition to the measure. On March 16, after refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America, Houston was removed from office, later retiring to his home in Huntsville.
It has been conjectured that this arresting image may be the work of the pioneer Houston dauguerreotypist J.H. Stephen Stanley of Houston (active 1850-1870) who maintained a studio on Main Street, a short distance from the residence of Major Eber W. Cave, Houston's close friend, with whom he often stayed (on Stanley, see The Handbook of Texas, online). The portrait may derive from one of two of Sam Houston's last public appearances. Houston's health was precarious by 1863, but the frail old man who had outspokenly denounced secession still, on some occasions, made the journey from his home in Hunstville to the city named after him. On March 18 Houston was invited by Cave, for the first time since his expulsion from office, to address the public. At the time he had been forced from the governorship, rebel patriotism had run high and there was general confidence that secession would be either unopposed by the North, or else easily defended by Southern arms. But by the spring of 1863, many young men had gone with the armies to remote battlefields, some were dead, and Texans had felt the pinch of the blockade and war levies. In his address, which lasted more than an hour, he avoided any outright endorsement of the Confederate cause, but praised the South's military commanders and conceded that the outcome of the struggle might produce two separate nations (full text in Writings, ed. Williams and Barker, vol.8, pp.327-339). His address on this occasion was so well received that many Texans called for Houston's reinstatement as Governor, an idea the old man gently rebuffed.
Houston had always been willing to sit for a photographer, and on one occasion, in San Antonio, had walked directly off the street to pose for a picture at the request of an admirer. It is conjectured that a similar request from a friend or admirer might have motivated Houston to walk the few blocks from Cave's home to Stanley's studio to sit for a portrait. Until the discovery of this image, a total of nine portraits of Houston were recorded, although at least twelve others are "known to have been taken but remain unlocated" (Harold Francis Pfister, Facing the Light: Historic American Portrait Daguerreotypes, National Portrait Gallery, 1978, pp.67-68, 327). A standing portrait, from about 1858, attributed to Brady's New York studio, was previously regarded as the last recorded image of Houston (illustrated in Southwestern Historical Quarterly, vol.96, no.3 (January 1993), p.341).
The daguerreotype is accompanied by several letters regarding its discovery, including one of Madge Thornall Roberts, great grand-daughter of Houston and editor of The Personal Correspondence of Sam Houston, University of North Texas Press, 1996-2001. The present image is reproduced as the frontispiece in the newly issued vol. 4 of this prize-winning historical work.
Provenance: Discovered by the present owner in 1999.