Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The White-Washed Wall

Margaret Crawford Houston (1825-1912)

my third great grandmother

me-->Ruth Rasmussen Buchanan-->Alice Houston Rasmussen-->John Cooper Houston-->James Houston, Jr.-->Margaret Crawford Houston

When I was a teenager, my grandmother Alice Rasmussen told me a story that seemed like a fairy tale.  Since that time I've heard the same story from different sources; I now truly believe it happened.  Here's the account from the book titled "Ancestors and Descendants of James and Margaret Crawford Houston" beginning on page 209.

Margaret Crawford was born in a small village at the south end of Pentland Hills in Scotland.  

The Crawfords had lived in Pentland Hills for six generations.  

When Margaret was 2, her family moved to Wilsontown.

When Margaret was 4, they moved to Pebbles-Manor.  [I believe this is a typo and should be Peebles]

When she was 6, they moved to Eddleston, Peeblesshire.

Later they moved to a place that would change Margaret's life.  Biggar, Lanarkshire, Scotland.


I'm pretty sure that's not how the town looked in the 1830's.  I guess you could say it's gotten bigger, or is that biggar?

Margaret's father owned a small farm.  She had to feed and put fresh water out for cows and horses and gather the eggs and feed the chickens. 
The Farm Girl by Boulanger Gustave

 She also had the job of helping her mother with the white wash.

In the Crawford home was a large fireplace at one end with a low ceiling.  The soot from the fireplace made the walls dirty.  


Margaret and her mother had the job of painting the walls to make the home clean and comfortable.  They used white clay or chalk found in nearby hills and mixed it with water to create the paint or white wash.

To get a better idea of what they did, here's a short video showing how whitewashing was done.

In all my research of white washing, I learned that it was time-consuming.  I'm fairly certain this was not a weekly chore.  Especially since it took 3 to 4 days to dry and cure.

One day Margaret and her mother had just finished this chore and were admiring the snow-white walls.  They received a knock on the door.

They didn't recognize the man, and thought he was a beggar.  First he looked at Margaret, then he looked at her mother, then he looked at the walls.  After gazing steadily at Margaret, he walked up to the fireplace and picked up a piece of charcoal. 

Then he did something that shocked the mother and daughter.  He began to write on the wall!

He didn't draw pictures like these kids.

He wrote words.  He filled the entire wall with his words .  When he finished, he silently left their home.  He never said a word.

At first, when Margaret looked at the writing, it seemed to be in a strange language.  Eventually she was able to make out the words.  This is what it said:

Margaret was going to be visited by a young man who was teaching a new and strange religion.  The young man was from the new world and had crossed many waters to teach her this religion.  She would accept the new religion and some of her family would accept it, but they would suffer persecution by joining it.  
The young man was of their own nationality, and would return to his home.  Then he would come again to her land and take her as his wife across the many waters, and there in the new world they would build a home and have a great posterity.

After the family read this, they laughed and made fun of it calling it a fairy tale--except Margaret. She was deeply impressed.  They all wondered how someone could come from the new world but be of their nationality, yet that is exactly what happened. 

 In Feb. 1844, Margaret's mother died.  In the fall of 1844, the Mormon missionaries came to Lanarkshire.  
They probably didn't look like these LDS missionaries currently serving in Scotland and Ireland.

One of those missionaries was James Houston.  

First Margaret's father was baptized on 1 December 1844.  Her sister Christina was baptized the following March, next her brothers James and John in May.  
Margaret was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 26 July 1845 by James Houston.    They were married on 25 Aug 1845 and he was released from his mission on 31 Aug 1845.  

Note: LDS missionaries can no longer marry while serving as a full-time missionary.

James Houston went back to get his wife and on 3 September 1845 they set sail for Nauvoo, Illinois.   She was 20 years old.

James Houston is recorded as saying,

"I received her from the Lord and hold her at his disposal."

Margaret Crawford Houston
Note: To read how James Houston came to be a missionary in his own land, click here.


  1. Thank you! I have heard this story before, and have a copy of the book (by Gladys Banks) but the way you have brought it to life is very cool. Thanks for posting this. - Michael Cline

    1. Hi, my name is Guy Carpenter, I am interested in obtaining a copy of this book. I have a borrowed copy of my neighbors and need to give it back. My line comes through the brother of Margaret. I am going to call Downs printing for a lead also. Thanks for any help.

    2. I bought mine on eBay for $60. You could try there.

  2. I just found your blog. We share the same grandparents- James and Margaret. I love reading your stories! I haven't heard them all before!

  3. Yup. James and Mary are my great great great grandparents too. They are wonderful people. I'm excited to get to know them better.

  4. This is a great story. I hadn't heard the wall story. James and Margaret were my great great great grandparents. I also had the opportunity to serve in the Scotland Edinburgh Mission back in 1989-1991, but did not get to serve in the Peebles area. I am thankful though that I got to be in the land my ancestors.