Portrait of Mary Ball Houston
SITTER: Born in Caldwell County, Kentucky, Mary (Ball) Houston (1818 – c.1859) was the daughter of Sarah (Edwards) Ball (d.1885) and John H. Ball (1788-1848). By the 1830 census the family had moved to Madison County, Tennessee, and by 1840 they were in neighboring Fayette County, Tennessee. Around 1840, she married William Houston (1802-1872), a Memphis merchant and one-time manager of the Guyoso Hotel. William was a younger brother of the prominent politician, Tennessee and Texas Governor Sam Houston (1773-1863).
The portrait likely dates around 1855 when Houston managed the Guyoso Hotel where James Hart advertised his studio. Built in 1842, the Guyoso was one of the most luxurious hotels along the Mississippi River with a private wharf and a commanding river view. It is possible that the portrait depicts Mary at the hotel with the Mississippi River in the background.
Like his brother Sam Houston, William was pro-Union and left Tennessee shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War. The family moved to Washington, D.C., where William secured a clerkship from President Abraham Lincoln.