Pelham High School
First Period Alabama History
It is unknown as to who the first white explorer was who first saw the land in Alabama that was to become known as Winston County and later during the Civil War and to this day as the "Free State of Winston." It could have been De Soto or De Luna's food expedition or an eighteenth century French explorer. It could even have been the Welsh Prince Modoc, son of King Owain of Gwyneold in 1170, three hundred years before Christopher Columbus. The Welsh theory is supported because of unidentified Welsh style ruins near Clear Creek Falls.
Eventually, on January 22, 1858, the county of Hancock became known as Winston to honor John Anthony Winston, the first Alabama governor to be born in Alabama. The state legislature felt that it was necessary to do this because, Hancock an old Revolutionary War figure, was associated in their minds with abolitionism. The abolitionist’s efforts to provide for manumission of slaves in the State Constitution had produced a backlash that helped to kill the antislavery movement in Alabama. But, there were almost no slaves in Winston County because there were few plantations and the majority of the people were very poor.
Charles Christopher Sheats was the "Free State's" Jefferson Davis during the pre Civil War period. He led the act of Secession from Alabama. C.C. Sheats was chosen as a delegate to Montgomery's secession convention in January 1861 because he always voted for staying in the Union. During a meeting at Looney's Tavern on July 4, 1861, C.C. Sheats said, "If a state could leave the Union, could a county not leave a state?" This earned the county the name "The Free State Of Winston." Those that used this name were called "Tories."
Andrew Jackson Ingle was the founder of Double Springs and a loyal Winston Unionist. His life was threatened because of this. He wrote letters to Governor Moore in retaliation to charges made against the people of Winston County. Ingle said in his letters that Alabama had been rash in her secession. Many other people felt that Winston should stay in the Union also. One of these was James Bell. He often wrote to his son that he would stay with the union because "that was what his forefathers had fought for and no one should forget it."
After the Civil War began, Confederate soldiers often came to Winston County to try to get recruits. They were mostly unsuccessful and therefore harassed the general population sometimes resulting in the killing of Winston County citizens. This kind of action produced "Confederate killers" one of whom was "Aunt Jenny Brooks." When a Confederate lynching mob killed her husband and son and burned their house, she had her children swear to get as many of those in the mob as they could. She herself got two. She was also known for her moonshine whiskey, which she made to support herself.
The Natural Bridge in Winston County was where I first learned about the "Free State of Winston" because of a plaque they had there commemorating the "Free State". This famous natural feature of Winston, Natural Bridge, is a cave type structure with only a strip of roof left. In 1862, neutralists who had hardened into unionists began to sneak around and hide in caves and at Natural Bridge rather than join the rebel cause. They hid so that they could join the Union Army. Those who got away formed the First Alabama Cavalry. Winstonians were often called Unionists for staying on the side of the Union.
Winston in the company of Fayette and Marion Counties decided to remain neutral during the Civil War. But many Winstonians did help in the defeat of the Confederacy. They were helpful to the Union cause by enlisting in the Union Army. An even larger number stayed home to be a thorn in the side of the Confederacy. Confederate troops had to go after the Winstonians and were effectively tied up so that they couldn't concentrate on the main Confederate cause. The Winstonians also acted as guides to the Union so they could take the Confederates by surprise. They also provided a place for deserters from the Confederate army to hide. Although many Winstonians were loyal to the union, most were forgotten and very few were rewarded for their service to the Union. Eight other counties had more claims for specific aid to the Union army in spite off Winston County being "overwhelmingly disloyal" to the Confederacy. The Winstonians did not get benefits from the Union's Reconstruction of the south. After the protection of the Federal Troops was gone, the Winstonians received much persecution for their support of the Union during the Civil War.
Dodd, Donald B., and Wynelle S. Dodd. Winston: An Antebellum and Civil War History of a Hill County in North Alabama. Birmingham, Alabama: Oxmoor Press, 1972.
Fleming, Walter L., Ph.D. Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama. Spartanburg, South Carolina: The Reprint Co., Publishers, 1978.
Thompson, Wesley S. The Free State of Winston. Winfield, Alabama: Pareil Press, 1968.
Hamilton, Virginia Von der Veer. Alabama A History. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1977.