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Sam Houston - Ulster American

Ballybracken is a townland in County Antrim and in 1725 this area, like many others in the north of Ireland, was feeling the worst effects of the famine there. Jane Houston, a widow with four sons, was struggling to survive and make ends meet and eventually had no option but to take her family to America. Under the Ulster custom of Tenant Rights she was entitled to payment for the improvements she had made to her little farm and this payment she used as her passage money from Larne to the New World.

Jane Houston's sons grew up in New York and like many other Ulster immigrants they moved south and west. One son, Samuel Houston, went down through the Allegheny Mountains to Virginia where he married Elizabeth Paxton. In 1793 at Timber Ridge Virginia, their fifth child, Sam Houston was born. The Houstons moved on to Tennessee in 1807, and it was there that Sam Houston came into contact with the Cherokee Indians.

At that time the dictator of Mexico, General Santa Ana led an army of 5,000 men north to consolidate Mexico's control over the vast Texas territory which was being defended by a scattered force of American settlers. Sam Houston became the Commander In Chief of this settler army. Once the powerful Mexican army arrived in San Antonio, it was confronted by a force of 182 men, mostly of Ulster-Scots descent who had taken up defensive positions in a ruined church at the Alamo. These 182 men were led by the brave young Colonel William Travis and they also included Jim Bowie whose roots were in Auchnacley and Davey Crockett whose ancestors came from Strabane. For the next 13 days they delayed the advance of the Mexican army until they were finally overrun by the superior force. However, the Mexicans also paid a high price for taking the Alamo, losing 1600 men in the process. The Alamo defenders had succeeded in buying precious time for the remaining American forces to make an offensive strike. Unfortunately the Alamo defenders were to die before Houston could reach them, but his forces subsequently defeated the Mexican General Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, thereby securing the independence of Texas. Santa Anna was defeated and the future of Texas was secure as part of the Union. Sam Houston, descendant of the Houstons of Ballybracken, went on to become the first President of Texas and a folk hero.

In Sam Houston's honor a village was renamed Houston, and this village went on to grow by leaps and bounds with the discovery of oil, and in time it became America's Space Centre. In July 1969 as Apollo touched down on the moon's surface they received the message "Houston, the Eagle has landed", so the first word spoken from the moon was the name of a poor family from County Antrim in the north of Ireland!