By Angela Pfeiffer, Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site
In honor of spring flowers, this month’s artifact is a set of toilet or cologne bottles once owned by Sam Houston. Donated to Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site by Gen. Houston’s descendants, these two white glass bottles are painted with flowers that surround the gilt inscriptions "Creme de Fleur d’Orange" and "Noyau de Shalsburg" that describe each bottle’s contents.
Originally used to hold aftershave lotion or pommander, each bottle was made in Paris, France, sometime between 1830 and 1863. The term “toilet” or “toilette” was often used during the 1800s to describe the personal grooming process, which for men began to include the use of aftershaves and colognes as individual hygiene and tidiness improved over the century. Aftershaves acted as a combination of perfume, antiseptic, and moisturizer, providing men with an opportunity to protect their health by sanitizing nicks and cuts from shaving.
Such products came with the added bonus of masking unpleasant odors with more preferable masculine fragrances. This set of toilet bottles serves as a reminder that even great historical figures like Houston struggled to stay clean and tidy in a time before running water.
While it is unclear whether Houston ever visited the plantation, he was well acquainted with the site’s owners, the Patton family, as Columbus Patton’s brother, William Hester Patton, was Houston’s aide-de-camp during the Battle of San Jacinto. The Pattons’ future brother-in-law Lt. David Murphree (who later married their sister Margaretta Patton) was a commander during the fighting at San Jacinto as well. Houston also entrusted William Patton with the task of transporting Mexican President and General Antonio López de Santa Anna to Washington, D.C. after his capture at the end of the Texas Revolution. Although Gen. Houston may never have used his cologne bottles at the Pattons’ plantation, he was well acquainted with the family and trusted them to carry out a number of duties that helped shape Texas and its history.