She wore a long face
(and got the laughs)
. . . but where came that temper?
What’s in a Name?
The Houston name is graced by many in times modern and times gone by.
HOUSTON is Renée’s grandfather’s surname on the maternal side. The maiden name of Renée’s grandmother is MURPHY – a family that hailed from Ireland, settling in Newmilns in Ayrshire and later Glasgow. Granny Houston’s marriage to John Houston takes place at Shettleston near Glasgow in the 1870s. John’s family are Catholic for several generations and before this, Protestant. Through her marriage, Granny is connected to Clan Houston – a surprising and ancient pedigree.
Renée’s father’s surname is GRIBBIN or GRIBBON or GRIBBEN. He takes his wife’s family’s name for a stage name. Jimmie Gribbin’s own Catholic family originates in neighbourhoods in County Armagh, Ireland: those of Lurgan (an Ulster Plantation settlement) and Portadown. These are places that, from 1846 to 1849, are badly affected by the Irish famine. There’s a local saying: ‘having a face as long as a Lurgan spade’ – meaning you’re none too happy. Gribbens are also to be found in Larne, in Antrim – at the Roman Catholic McGarel Cemetery.
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From Scotland to Ireland
Historically, Larne in Antrim is a major embarkation point for emigrants – more so than any geographic point in the north of Ireland including Belfast. Presbyterian Scots take up long leases here – following military conquest (by the English in 1603). Ulster landlords need tenants and many poor landless labourers fleeing debts or fleeing justice follow. Larne is the ‘Gateway to Ulster.’
In Larne many Houstons are to be found – laid to rest at St Cedma’s (Larne and Inver old Graveyard) – Protestant graves. A church window bears a ‘Houston’ inscription.
“Hu”ston – do you think you are?
Magic springs from geometry: a Golden Triangle links villages in the west central lowlands of Scotland: Houston, Kilbarchan and Kilmacolm.
The Knights Templars, closely linked to the Cistercians, own land in Scotland, by the River Clyde. ‘Hu’s Town’ is named after the home of a brave Templar and Crusader – Hugo de Paduinan (or Sir Hugh de Payens) who dares fight Saladin at the Battle of Hattin.
Family Coat of Arms
An aristocratic ‘Houston’ or ‘Houstoun’ or ‘Huston’ clan begins – with a coat of arms – and successive generations of Knights who see warfare in foreign lands (beginning with Simon de Houston, 1269).
In later times, the family are Scots Presbyterians who relocate to Ulster to take advantage of privileges. The ancient Castle at Houston in Renfrew (pictured in the main image for this page of the site) declines (one high original tower remaining to this day) – becoming a possession of a Tobacco Lord.
Above: Johnstone Castle
In the 1640s, the Houstouns’ ancestral seat moves to Johnstone (forming a ‘Johnstone Castle’ branch). There’s another branch of the Houston baronetcy – a ship-owning one in Liverpool. Sir Robert Houston is credited with developing the theory of convoys first used during the Boer War. Lady Houston – great patroness of the 1920s and 1930s marries into this branch of the family.
From Ireland to America
As for the original Renfrew branch, times are tough and emigration to the New World is a solution. The son of the brother of the first Houston Baronet moves to what is now Maryland.
Family emigrés include the wife of the bankrupted third Baronet Houston, who marries her brother-in-law, John Houston. They sail from Belfast in 1730 with several kegs of gold sovereigns. Houston makes the mistake of divulging this to the master of the ship. It’s too much for the cupidity of the crew and in mid-Atlantic they try to steal the sovereigns. John Houston and his allies overwhelm the ringleaders and navigate the ship safely into Philadelphia.
What’s it like to exchange the damp of Scottish lowlands for the climate of subtropical Savannah and the altitude of the Appalachians?
The family become slave-owning settlers and brave sons of the American Revolution.
On a Virginia plantation near Timber Ridge Church, Sam Houston is born in 1793. His great great great grandfather was half-brother of the fourth Baronet Houston (who had no issue) – his Scots ancestors hailing from Antrim in Ireland.
Sam runs away to an island at Hiwassee, at the confluence of two rivers, befriends the Cherokees and the father-like Chief Oolooteka calls Sam “the Raven.” Oolooteka longs for an independent tribal nation.
With the British bent on humiliating Washington, red-haired and ruthless Andrew Jackson, whose descent was also Scots-Irish, seeks revenge – and later “Old Hickory” as he’s known, becomes President of America, defeating Quincy Adams in 1828.
Sam Houston is a Jacksonian. He volunteers to fight for his fellow Tennessean and works mightily for Jackson to be elected. He’s his protégé.
But such a contradiction! Jackson is terrible in his treatment of the Indians – initiating the cruel 800 mile ‘Trail of Tears’ – the removal of the Cherokee to reservations. Over a quarter of the Cherokee Nation die of disease, starvation and exposure to bitter cold.
But Houston’s been pro-Indian a long while. Didn’t he accompany a delegation of Cherokees to Washington in 1818, wish for their plight to improve, expose frauds committed against them? He even dressed as a Cherokee. Houston’s second wife, Tiana, is a mixed-race woman from the tribe. “… I will punish any man who does injustice to the Indians,” writes Sam Houston in 1843. “I have known them from my boyhood. They are a brave, honest, upright people.” Yet all Houston can do is present a softer face of administration, persuading his Indian friends that moving west, rather than fighting, is in their best interest.
And poor Tiana dies of a broken heart.
Her grave is located in a spot called ‘Wilson’s Rock’ on the Arkansas River.
Sam seems haunted. Out of power he can be a dissipated broken-down demagogue.
Later, he’s a reformed man and a temperance advocate
The Origin of “Houstonize”
(William Craigie’s Dictionary of American English, 1940)
It’s Sam Houston’s hard drinking and notorious temper that puts him in the national spotlight. He beats the buckeyes out of anti-Jacksonian Congressman William Stanbery of Ohio in 1832. Stanbery gets the worst of Sam’s hickory cane. Some say an insult related to an Indian rations contract sparks the fight. In trouble, Sam Houston flees to the then Mexican state of Texas.
Spanish military troops are stationed in the abandoned chapel – a former mission located in a grove of cottonwood trees – called “El Alamo”. In December 1835 Texas attempts to gain independence from Mexico and volunteer soldiers occupy the Alamo. The Mexicans lay siege and the Alamo is defeated.
Houston is made commander-in-chief of a ill-equipped and poorly provisioned Texas Army.
Above: From a painting by Ken Turner
He catches the Mexican forces under General Antonio López de Santa Anna by surprise as they camp along the banks of the San Jacinto River. With the battle cry “Remember the Alamo,” Houston’s 800 men defeat a force twice its size in a mere 18 minutes.
An armistice grants Texas independence soon after and Houston becomes President of a new Independent Republic of Texas. The city of Houston is named in his honour in 1837. In 1845 the United States annexes Texas and Sam Houston is elected Senator from Texas. He makes a run for the presidency in 1860 but isn’t successful. Texas is a slave state – most of its settlers are natives of the slave states east of the Mississippi.
In 1861 Civil War begins.The ‘Lone Star State’ is in sympathy with the aims of Secession.
Houston opposes joining the Confederacy. He’s still a Jacksonian and believes strongly in the Union. As a result he’s deposed and replaced with a pro-Confederacy lieutenant governor.
Houston has carved out the Republic of Texas with his sword and then, with a cavalier gesture, handed it to the USA.
But he’s acted like a knight – a true clansman.
Jim Rennie – Historian of the Clans
James Houston Junior, or simply ‘Jim’ to family and friends is the eldest of the Houston siblings: brother to Renée, Billie and Shirley Houston. Jim writes many successful works of historic non-fiction, as well as science-fiction novels, film scripts, children’s books, autobiographies and Westerns – all under the name James Alan Rennie.
As a young man, he makes it his mission to see the world and his adventures in remote regions of Canada and North and South America provide inspiration for later books. He lives in the Highlands and his history books are a purpose and a passion in his later years. He draws inspiration from Scotland’s ancient landscape and the heroic past of Scottish Clans.
Here are some of Jim’s books :
His early years in London are far from sublime. He remains very loyal to his family.
As a tiny wee lad, he gains a taste for Americana when Buffallo Bill Cody’s troupe are in town.
Here’s Cody, Annie Oakley and the rest of them . . .
The Murphy Gribbins or Houstons live in a modern type of castle.
A fire burns in the hearth.
Renfrew never changes.
They never stray far from the Golden Triangle.
And in the land of Granny Houston, valiant little armies gather in the streets.