"Free State" of Van Zandt
Van Zandt County citizens are proud to call their county the "Free State of Van Zandt." There are several versions or stories about why and how the county got this name.
"When Van Zandt County was cut off from Henderson, it seems by design or mistake of some kind, the entire indebtedness of the former territory was left for Henderson county to pay, and Van Zandt was jocularly called "free Territory" because it was exempt from any portion of this debt, beginning what has since crystalized into the sobriquet of the "free state of Van Zandt" and furnishing the cause for considerable merriment. This incident was followed by others until as far as Van Zandt county is known at all, it is called the free state of Van Zandt." ... (from the Southland newspaper published ca 1904-06).
C.J. Hubbard tells of Pioneer Days in Van Zandt County
Mr. Editor: Allow me a little space in your paper to say a few words in regard to pioneer days in the "Free State." Perhaps it would not be out of place to tell why it came to be called the "Free State," as it will be news to the younger generation, so here goes: Before the Civil War between the States, when the Southern States were seceding from the Union, Texas was the last state to secede. Van Zandt had a majority that was in favor of remaining in the Union, hence the name, "Free State."......from the Canton Herald, July 3, 1931
"Some History of Van Zandt County" by Wentworth Manning
Van Zandt county was created from territory of Henderson county, and had been stigmatized "free territory." When secession was accomplished it was self evident that war would inevitably follow. Slave owners along the borders at once set about looking out for places of safety for their property. Many slaves were brought to Texas during that contest. For that purpose the owner of a large number of slaves sent a slave driver to Texas to look out a place of refuge for his slaves. This man came by steamboat to Jefferson; there he secured a horse and saddle and came out on horseback to Gilmer, Quitman, and on to Canton, stopping at the Bivins hotel, the principal hotel in the town.
Editor Johnson of the Times heard that a slave driver had blown into town, called upon him at his hotel, and in the run of conversation made bold to ask him if he thought he would bring his slaves to Van Zandt county. "H--l no came the reply, I had as soon think of taking them to a free state. I came all the way from Quitman here and never so much as saw a slave." At that time very few people living in Van Zandt county owned slaves, and as misery loves company, the slave driver felt lonesome in Van Zandt county. Editor Johnson, commenting upon this in a short paragraph said: "Van Zandt county had been free territory since it had been created, and now it had been admitted as a free state." The war came on and this appellation was carried to the training camps and into the army and was over the whole south and it has grown to be a byword by many who never knew the significance of it."
Mr. M. N. Crestman, a lawyer in Dallas, gives the following story of how the County of Van Zandt came to be called "The Free State of Van Zandt." The story was given to him by Rev. S. N. Allen, his mother's brother, a superannuated Methodist minister, now living at Beeville, Texas. Following the contest of ballots, in 1867, which sent Texas back into the Union a Convention was held in Van Zandt County whereupon it was declared by the citizens that their county be a free and independent state, free and independent of the State of Texas, Southern Confederacy and the United States of America, and put themselves in a position to fight for their liberty.
General Sheridan had his headquarters at New Orleans, and when he learned that there was a "rebellion," sent a troop of cavalry to quell the riot. The woods in Van Zandt County in those days were such that horsemen were handicapped and the boys of the Free State used the process of "Pot-shot" on the Yankee soldiers to the extent that they faded away. Not being able to find the Union soldiers in time they assembled in the town of Canton, the Capital of the Free State of Van Zandt, and proceeded to celebrate the victory of defeating the State and nation. But they imbibed the current standard of liquor to excess. In the height of their celebration Sheridan's troops came riding from every point of the compass and captured the entire army of the Free State. Federal soldiers proceeded to build a prison by setting upright in the ground, long and large logs encircling a few acres of ground in or near the present site of Canton, Texas. Each prisoner, bereft of his weapons, had a pair of anklets safely locked on him. Guards were put on duty around the prison, but the Free State were model prisoners, somewhat enjoying the food.
W. A. Allen and Hardy Allen, ex-Confederate soldiers, were of the number captured and put in prison. W. A. Allen, who had been captured and held a prisoner of war, had the habit of wearing a knife in his boot and this was not discovered. As time went on the nights were occupied with using that knife, which had been made into a file, to wear the anklets down to the point where they could broken by hand. In time the rainy season set in, and the clay in which the post were set became soft. The guards had been reduced to one, who walked around the several acres in which they were imprisoned. The boys began throwing their bodies against two or three of the posts, and finally were able to lift them out and escape."
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