Dr. William Houston, Sr.

Dr. William Houston, Sr.

by W. Michael Golnick, Jr., 1988

D. Ca. 1795

William Houston, Sr., was a physician, apothecary, and local political leader of Duplin County. His early life is obscure until he arrived in North Carolina about 1735 from County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Houston was the nephew of Henry McCulloch, a wealthy London merchant who financed many colonizing expeditions to theCape Fear region, and served as his uncle’s partner, trustee, and agent. In 1742 he built a home, Soracte, on the Northeast River, eight miles from Kenansville.

In 1749, when Duplin County was formed, Houston was an integral part of its development. He was a vestryman of St. Gabriel Parish (Anglican); a justice of the peace, serving frequently from the 1750s onward; Duplin’s first representative to the colonial Assembly, from 1749 to 1762; and one of the three men in charge of building the county’s courthouse, prison, and stocks. In the Assembly he developed a reputation for industry in the service of his county.

In 1765, after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, Houston was appointed stamp distributor for North Carolina. As he never solicited the office, it is conjectured that he was selected because of his kinship and close relationship with Henry McCulloch. This appointment became the focal point of public demonstrations on 19 and 31 Oct. 1765 in Wilmington, and on 31 October in New Bern and Fayetteville. Houston was hanged in effigy, presumably more in protest against the Stamp Act than against him personally. Unaware of the appointment or the reaction to it, Houston traveled from Soracte to Wilmington on Saturday, 16 November, where he was confronted by a crowd of three or four hundred people led by Colonel John Ashe. Under the circumstances, Houston declared that “he should be very sorry to execute any Office disagreeable to the People of the Province.” The crowd was not satisfied until it had escorted him to the courthouse where he put his resignation in writing.

In 1766 Houston became clerk for the Committee of Public Claims at New Bern, and in 1768 and 1771 he was reappointed justice of the peace for Duplin. During the Revolutionary War, he served as chairman of the Court Martial Committee in Duplin, charged with hunting down Tories and deserters to the colonial cause. In 1784, Governor Alexander Martin once again appointed him justice of the peace for Duplin. He served as chairman of the county court from 1784 to 21 Oct. 1793, when he was last mentioned in the court minutes.

A wealthy man, Houston owned several large tracts of land and a number of slaves. In 1786, he donated land for a county seat to be built at Soracte, but Kenansville was later chosen instead. Houston married Ann Jones, the daughter of Squire Griffith Jones of Bladen County. They had five children: William, Jr., Edward, Griffith, Henry, and a daughter who married Captain William Hubbard.

"Wilmington, Nov. 20." North Carolina Gazette. November 20, 1765. 1. “Wilmington, Nov. 20.” North Carolina Gazette. November 20, 1765. 1.


J. O. Carr, “William Houston, The Stamp Agent—Another Viewpoint,” in James Sprunt, ed., The Chronicles of the Cape Fear River (1660–1916) (1916).

Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, vols. 11 (1895), 17 (1899), 22 (1907), 25 (1906).

Cleburne Huston, Bold Legacy: The Story of the Houston, Huston, Houstoun Ancestors (1150–1800) (1968).

Kenansville Duplin Times, 30 Jan. 1941, 16 Sept. 1949.

Faison Wells McGowen and Pearl Canady McGowen, Flashes of Duplin’s History and Government (1971).

William L. Saunders, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, vol. 7 (1890).

Additional Resources:

“CSR Documents by Houston, William, d. ca. 1795.” Colonial and State Records of North Carolina. Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.http://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.html/creators/csr10262 (accessed May 5, 2014).

“Wilmington, Nov. 20.” North Carolina Gazette. November 20, 1765. 1.http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p15016coll1/id/14225 (accessed May 5, 2014).

“William Tryon and William Houston Marker, Wilmington.” Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina. Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.http://docsouth.unc.edu/commland/monument/428/ (accessed May 5, 2014).

Stamp Master’s Hand Forced, 1765

On November 16, 1765, North Carolina’s stamp master, William Houston, resigned his post amid demonstrations against the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act of 1765, the first direct tax placed on the American colonies by Great Britain, was intended to raise revenue to defray Britain’s national debt. The measure, however, was met with great disdain throughout the colonies.

Houston, a Duplin County physician and early Irish immigrant, was selected as the stamp distributor in 1765 after Parliament passed the Act. His appointment led to public demonstrations and Houston being hanged in effigy in Wilmington, New Bern and Cross Creek throughout October 1765.

Upon arriving in Wilmington the following month to take his post, Houston was confronted by several hundred protestors. He publicly declared that he did not want to be responsible for government actions with which the public disagreed, but the unsatisfied crowd forced him to the county courthouseanyway, where he penned his resignation.

After his resignation, Houston evidently regained a level of respect. The following year, he became clerk of the Committee of Public Claims at New Bern, and later he was appointed a justice of the peace for Duplin County.

Other related resources:

The Stamp Act Crisis in North Carolina

historical marker for the Old Court House in Wilmington, NC

The courthouse in Wilmington was the site of one of the first Revolutionary conflicts in North Carolina. Image source. About the photograph

On Saturday, November 16th, 1765, Dr. William Houston, a respected resident of Duplin County, arrived in Wilmington, North Carolina for a short visit. Houston had recently been appointed — to his great surprise, since he had not sought the position — distributor of stamps for the colony of North Carolina under a new revenue law enacted by the Parliament of Great Britain. Houston may have heard that the new tax was unpopular among his fellow colonists, but he quickly learned that the citizens of Wilmington were particularly upset about it. A crowd of three or four hundred people accompanied by drums and flags appeared at his inn and escorted Houston to the courthouse where, in the presence of Wilmington’s mayor and several aldermen, he was told that he would have to resign his position as stamp distributor. Under the circumstances, and not having wanted the job in the first place, Dr. Houston resigned on the spot. This made him the crowd’s hero, and Houston was carried in an armchair back to his inn and toasted by his admirers with “the best Liquors to be had.” More toasting followed around a bonfire that night as opponents of the new tax cheered themselves and their noble endeavor. The assault on Dr. Houston, while no one was harmed and the whole affair was more or less good-natured, was a symptom of a very real and serious division between Great Britain and her American colonies, a division which would soon lead to revolution.

For much of their early history the British colonies in North America had been treated with what has been called benign neglect. Great Britain regulated the colonies’ external trade through a series of navigation acts, but colonial assemblies took over responsibility for their internal affairs, including levying taxes and appropriating money. This changed as a result of the Seven Years War (1756–1763), which Americans knew as the French and Indian War. In North America British and colonial troops fought the French based in Canada, but Great Britain was also engaged in Europe and India in what Winston Churchill called “the first world war.”

sarcastic reponse to the Stamp Act

A Pennsylvania newspaper sarcastically suggested this design for stamps.

Britain made many important gains during the war but at a great cost, and emerged from the conflict determined to bring its colonies under firmer control and raise some of the revenue necessary to support the new empire from colonial sources. As a part of this new policy Britain decided to station a permanent army in America to provide for colonial defense and pay for that army with funds raised in the colonies themselves. To this end Parliament, in March 1765, required that Americans pay a small tax on certain kinds of public papers, such as newspapers, pamphlets, insurance policies, ship’s papers, playing cards, and legal papers. To show that the tax had been paid, a stamp would be affixed to the paper. To the British this seemed reasonable and fair. To many American colonists, however, it violated the custom that direct taxes be levied only by colonial assemblies and the principle that Englishmen could only be taxed by a body in which they were represented. First resistance to the Stamp Act came in Boston, where the property of the stamp distributor was burned and the home of the colonial governor attacked. In response to an invitation from the legislature of Massachusetts, nine colonies sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765.

No delegates from North Carolina attended the Congress, but feeling in the colony, especially in the coastal area, was very much opposed to the tax. Governor William Tryon worked hard to convince North Carolinians to accept the tax, but when HMS Diligence arrived on November 28th bringing the tax stamps, the colonists refused to let them be brought ashore. In mid-January two ships were seized by the British navy in the Cape Fear River for sailing with unstamped papers. A thousand armed colonists forced the release of the ships and their crews. Governor Tryon discovered that he could not rely on magistrates and other law enforcement officials to suppress the disorder since so many of them had joined the protesters. The tension was finally eased by the repeal of the Stamp Act in March 1766. Life in colonial North Carolina returned to normal, but the Stamp Act Crisis had revealed serious, on-going problems in the relationship between Great Britain and the American colonies.

Interim Reflection

Before – what are your expectations or anticipations as you look forward to Interim? What are you uncertain about? What question do you have going in? What do you hope will happen?

I was very excited to travel to Germany because a) I took German as my foreign language in high school b) I taught WWI, WWII, and the Holocaust for many years, and c) I had never been to Europe before. I was anxious about flying over the ocean and being on a plane for such a long period of time. I was anxious about how the students would accept and interact with me as someone who they only know as an authority figure at school.

Backward – what is the story of your Interim experience?

My Interim experience was better than I could have imagined. My curiosity and love of history was sparked and I spent much of the following weeks reading up on each city, site, and discovery. I watched several documentaries on the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism, noticing specific locations where our group was standing (the Marienplatz, the Brandenburg Gate, Dachau). Also, I felt that many of the students connected with me. I made a deliberate effort to show interest, play card games, and interact as much as possible while also giving space.

Inward – what have you learned about yourself through this experience? What was particularly frustrating or satisfying?

I learned that I have a stronger desire to see distant parts of the world than I realized. I learned that many students here at school do not know who I am, they only know what they perceive based on my role. It is much easier to connect with students as a teacher because you consistently interact on a daily basis. I have to be extra intentional to forge relationships in the “in between” moments during a school day.

Outward – What is one thing in particular you want other people to know about your experience?

I want people to know how fortunate they are to have these opportunities. They are truly incredible and a more important part of achieving our mission of developing students who are ‘globally competitive.’ Many of them have traveled before age 14-18 to other countries. I’m 41 and this was my first time to Europe.

Forward – What passion or curiosity was sparked in you through this experience that you want to dig deeper into and pursue further?
My curiosity was definitely sparked regarding Hitler’s rise to power. I have done a fairly deep dive into parts of his personal timeline that I wasn’t interested in before actually standing in those places. The feeling at Dachau was so eery and awful – the worst of humanity. How could someone like Hitler convince so many people to support him? Having taught history, I knew all about the Treaty of Versailles and the economic factors, nazi propaganda, etc. But something about physically being in some of those locations like Nuremberg and the Hofsbrauhaus made it very real and allowed me to understand things I have only previously read about or seen in documentaries in a whole new way.

Germany 2018 – Feb 25

Day 3

Berlin – Dresden

2 hour drive. Played the “name game” on the bus. Driving tour with Heidi – most kids fell asleep. 96% of Dresden was destroyed in WW2 bombing. The blueprints were saved and they rebuilt, mostly after collapse of Berlin Wall. (Soviets wanted East Germany in part because of the treasures of Dresden – it is an underestimated city in terms of historical value and sights). Ate lunch at restaurant called Alex. Dresden museum was amazing with armory and collection of clocks, figurines, green diamond, etc. Second tour guide was exceptional. Later learned that Kurt Vonnegut survived bombing of Dresden and thus based Slaughterhouse 5 (which is the room where he was sheltered) on his experiences.


Germany 2018 – Feb 24

Day 2


Started day with bus tour led by “Matty” who worked for 80s radio station Berliner Rundfunk. He took us to another remaining section of the Berlin Wall where artists painted murals in sections – famous image of Brezhnev (Soviet) kissing the East Berlin leader on the mouth. Heard a local man playing an accordion and saying “Hallo! Danke!” Matty told us about famous escape attempts during the Cold War including a family who secretly built a hot air ballooon only to land just short still on the east. They had to rebuild even more secretly, but eventually made it across. The wall went up overnight without warning. Even soldiers skipped out at the last minute across the barbed wire. Families were separate and I think he said up to 4000 children who were spending the night at a relatives or elsewhere were separate from their parents. Another interesting story was about a man who was separate from his girlfriend. He was in the west and started dating a woman who looked a lot like his girlfriend who was trapped in the east. He suggested a day trip to the east, stole her passport, left her there and returned with his girlfriend. Two months later he was arrested for kidnapping.

Stopped at Saw Reichstag and learned about how Hitler used the fire to blame communists and enact police state powers, blocking out oppositional voices.

Brandenburg gate where Napoleon marched through, later Hitler, and later Reagan’s famous speech. Next to it was a Starbucks and the hotel where MIchael Jackson dangled his baby from the balcony.

Ate a meat wrap at outdoor market and fresh orange juice, then sat in Italian cafe by the window. Tried to go to the top of the needle tower (and gift from the Soviets to Berlin, similar slightly larger tower in Russia to show “mother” country relationship). The wait was 1.5 hours to top so we did not go. On the way we were stopped by a girl who wanted to trade for a lighter. We suspected she was a pickpocket or trying to distract us, so we quickly moved on.

Pergemon museum – saw Ishtar gate. The altar was closed for renovations. Walking on the way to dinner – we passed Angela Merkel’s home. One police car outside. Lives on second floor of place she has owned since age 21. Refuses to live in state residence because she believes a leader must live humbly to act humbly or else risk losing touch with the common person. Ate dinner at restaurant and stopped by a local grocery store on the way home.

Germany 2018 – Feb 23

Amsterdam – Berlin

Sat next to a guy who was sick, coughing, and taking up with arm chair – he was by the window, I was in the middle. Luckily, the flight was only one hour. Arrived in Germany and our baggage claim was small and immediately outside the plane in the airport. Got our stuff and was immediately greeted by our guide Dionysia. She greeted us with kisses and was very enthusiastic and clear with her instructions. We boarded the bus and headed through Berlin to our hotel. It was about a 30 minute drive and she gave us some history. Most of the buildings were very similar and were part of East Berlin during the Cold War – cookie cutter and boring buildings. Arrived at hotel and put our stuff in the dining area – check in was later after we returned from a quick jaunt into the city.

Road the yellow train – seemingly much more accessible than Marta. Went downtown and ate at a nice restaurant – ordered too much – salad, caprese, and pepperoni pizza. Enjoyed chatting with Erin, Alex, and Jenn. Felt the effects of no sleep and jet lag. Walked around and Got a chocolate eclair at Lindt’s. Spent the afternoon the at Topography of Terror Museum and Checkpoint Charlie. Saw a remaining section of the Berlin Wall. Then took the yellow train with the group to a mall – ate dinner – sausage and brotwurst. Then back to the hotel.

Germany 2018 – Feb 22

Day 1

Atlanta – Amsterdam

I hate to fly. First time inside the international terminal. Checked my bags and greeted families as they arrived. We posed for a group picture, said farewell to the parents and we were off. Through security and to the gate. Much nicer than domestic. Ate lunch with the bags – a chicken quesadilla. Bought a blue t-shirt at Tommy Hilfiger b/c mine was already sweaty. Boarded the plane and we were off. Read about the Beatles “Here, There, and Everywhere” written by a young studio engineer who worked with them from the start. The fed us constantly and the food was good. I listened to music and tried to relax as I read. I played the Sim City app. Couldn’t get the new iPad keyboard to work (figured out later to hold down the lock button longer). I wrote in journal a quick timeline of major life events 1976 to present as the start of further writings and documentation. Watched Thor Ragnorok. I watched along with the flight tracker no the screen in front of me – noticing the flight path closely followed the eastern coast of the USA heading north over canada, Greenland, and a couple of hours over the ocean. Seemed like in no time we flew over Virginia, DC, New York, etc. Then watched as we flew over Northern Ireland and Liverpool, England. Landed in Amsterdam in the early morning, had a Starbucks in the airport and quick transition to next plane.