By his own admission, Michael Houck was a broken man when he moved to White Plains. Life had had its way with his family. Houck and his wife, Elizabeth, were well into their seventies. He’d seen war. His addresses often changed, born in Pennsylvania, relocated to North Carolina, migrated to Tennessee. He wanted to be close to his kids when he died.
So Alabama it was. His family’s eventual landing spot was a speck of farmland in northeast Alabama surrounded by Appalachian foothills.
That’s where his son, Enoch Houck, lived. And that’s where both Michael and Elizabeth died in 1852 — he was 97, she was 92 — their passings separated by only eight months.
Two years prior, U.S. Census enumerators counted the free and enslaved people living in what was then Benton County.
Enoch Houck told census workers he was a farmer.
Michael Houck said he was a “Revolutioner.”
The Houcks died in White Plains, but, best I can tell they’re not buried in White Plains, though at least one of their descendants is. Enoch Houck Jr., for instance, rests in White Plains Community Cemetery near the high school.
The Houcks weren’t native Alabamians, but Michael Houck nonetheless is a fascinating chapter of Alabama’s meandering past. His story caught my eye this week because of a Tennessee State Library and Archives project that allows researchers to track the movements of Revolutionary War pensioners. And Michael Houck is particularly important since Alabama this year is celebrating its 200th birthday — a birthday that is complicated here in the northeastern hills.
Alabama’s birth dates to 1819, two years after separation from our Mississippi neighbors. That’s the date the Alabama Bicentennial Commission is celebrating. But remember your junior-high Alabama history class: White settlers weren’t legally allowed to move into northeast Alabama until after the Treaty of Cusseta in 1832, which removed Creek Indians from their ancestral lands east of the Mississippi River. That’s why Calhoun (formerly Benton) County’s oldest communities — Alexandria, White Plains, Jacksonville, even the county itself — all have 1830s birthdates. In fact, our county’s bicentennial won’t arrive for another 13 years.
Alabama may be celebrating 200 years of statehood, but its northeast counties have more in common with settlers like the Houcks than they do the state’s official beginning.
And, yes, Michael Houck was indeed a “Revolutioner.”
His family came to America from Germany in the mid-1700s and settled among the Dutch and Germans in Pennsylvania. His father, German-born Henry Houck (or Hauck, as it was spelled then), enlisted as an artilleryman in the second regiment of the New York militia in the summer of 1775, a year before the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. He survived the war and died in 1800 in Augusta, Ga. — a German at birth, a British colonialist as an adult and an American military veteran at death.
Michael Houck, born under the British flag, volunteered in November 1778 in Lincoln County, N.C., seeing combat five months later at the Battle of Brier Creek — a British victory — in Georgia. After discharge he volunteered three more times, once to fight British loyalists in the South, once to drive off Native Americans who sided with the British, and a third time to help deliver cattle to the Continental troops.
After the war, Michael and Elizabeth Houck farmed in North Carolina and Tennessee, eventually settling just south of Knoxville. When Congress expanded pensions for all Revolutionary War officers and enlisted men in June 1832, Michael applied that September in Monroe County, Tennessee. He received $40 a year, half on March 4, the other on Sept. 4.
On Aug. 5, 1839, Houck requested a transfer of his Revolutionary War pension to his new Alabama home in White Plains, where he and Elizabeth then lived with son Enoch — a War of 1812 veteran — and his wife, Mary. His attorney wrote on his application, “He is getting old and decrepit as is also his wife, who is likewise unhealthy, his children had mostly moved to Alabama, and it was important that he should enjoy their protection in his old age and also enjoy for himself and his wife the more temperate climate of the South.”
He got his transfer. And he died a self-styled “Revolutioner” with German roots who became a loyal American and died an Alabamian. Our state’s bicentennial commission should take note.