History of Anderson County, Texas

Relationship: Husband of second great grand aunt

The United States, as part of the mislabeled Florida Purchase Treaty of 1819, abandoned its tentative claims to territory that included what would eventually become Texas. Three years later, due largely in part to civil unrest within the mother country, Mexico gained its independence from Spain. In August, 1821, Stephen Fuller Austin was authorized by the Mexican government to enact the colonization enterprise first planned by his father, Moses Austin, before his death. By December of the same year the first colonists began to arrive in Texas. Widespread mortgage foreclosure because of the economic panic of 1819, and changes to the Land Act in 1820 made settlers eager to move to Austin’s colony. The conditions of the grant said that Austin would get three hundred American families, of the established Roman Catholic faith, to immigrate to the Texas territory, and that they would become properly Mexicanized. These conditions were generally ignored. Several other colonies were soon started by others, but Stephen Austin remained the main driving force behind the American colonization of Mexican Texas.

In 1826, the Mexican government gave David G. Burnet a grant to form a colony in the eastern part of Texas, which included an area that many years later would become Anderson County. In recent years the Mexican government had been making it more and more difficult to start new non-Catholic churches within its territories, although it did not interfere as much with already established churches. Rev. Daniel Parker, who was interested in starting a Protestant church in Texas, consulted with Stephen F. Austin,and in 1833 brought a group of 25 Primitive Baptist families from Illinois to Texas. They decided to call themselves the Pilgrim Predestinarian Regular Baptist Church and settled on the San Pedro Creek, near what is now the town of Grapeland, in Houston County, where they built a fort that became known as Brown’s Fort. John Parker, Rev. Parker’s brother, decided to move his family and three others 75 miles west to the Navasota River to establish Parker’s Fort, which is now a state park in Limestone County, roughly 32 miles east of Waco.

In early June, 1835, Joseph Jordan and William Ewing bought some land, two miles southeast of present day Palestine, at a spot now known as the John H. Reagan home site. A town called Houston was started there and by order of Gen. Sam Houston, a fort was built in the public square. The fort was naturally enough called Fort Houston. On 02 November 1835, Texas declared its right to secede from Mexico. The Mexican dictator,Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna declared Texas a state in revolt and began a military campaign of suppression. On 23 February 1836 a small mission fort in south central Texas called San Antonio de Valero, now commonly known as the Alamo, was attacked by units of the Mexican army. Santa Anna directed his army to ruthlessly slaughter the group of hopelessly out numbered Texas rebels after they refused to surrender the fort. Accompanied by cries of “Remember the Alamo”, an army of outraged Texans, led by Sam Houston,defeated Santa Anna and his army on 21 April 1836 at San Jacinto (Dan Lumpkin and Wash Browning fought in this battle). Texas independence was proclaimed a short time later and the new country was named “The Republic of Texas”.

Santa Anna’s attacks destroyed most of the American settlements west of the Trinity River and many survivors fled to Fort Houston for protection.Some of the Parker colonists returned to Parker’s Fort shortly after Santa Anna’s defeat. On 19 May 1836, Parker’s Fort was attacked by Commanche Indians and nearly all of the families were killed.  A couple survivors were captured and the rest fled back to Fort Houston.

In 1838, Rev. Daniel Parker, who had moved north of Brown’s Fort to build his home in an area near present-day Elkhart, helped build a small, single room church near his home. The church, now called “Old Pilgrim”, is the oldest Protestant church in Texas. In October of the same year, Gen. Thomas Rusk was informed that hostile Indians were camped at a place called Kickapoo, near what is now Frankston, in northeastern Anderson County. At the time he was marching with over two hundred men to Fort Houston to fight marauding Mexicans and Indians. His successful raid of the Indian camp, which ended Indian hostilities in eastern Texas for the rest of that year, was the only large scale battle against hostile Indians recorded within Anderson County.

Six years after the Kickapoo battle, on 29 December 1845,Texas was annexed into the union as the 28th state. The area which would become Anderson County was first formed as part of Houston County, but on 24 March 1846, the First Legislature of the state of Texas responded to a petition presented by settlers from around the Fort Houston area to create a new county, which was created from the upper part of Houston County.The new county lay between the Trinity and Neches rivers, and had an area of 1,077 square miles, making it the 52nd largest of the 254 counties in Texas.

It was suggested that the county be named Burnet, in honor of David G. Burnet, but instead it was named Anderson, after Kenneth Lewis Anderson, Vice-President of the Republic of Texas from 1844 until the state’s annexation. The same act passed by Legislature that created Anderson County also stated that its seat had to be within three miles of the geographic center of the county. Strong competition broke out between the towns of Fort Houston and Mound Prairie, both wanting to claim the privilege of being the county seat. The county was organized on 13 July 1846 and Fort Houston served as the county seat. A month later it was found that Fort Houston was too far off the center of the county, so a committee, composed of ‘Dan’ Lumpkin, William Turner Sadler, and John Parker was appointed to find and lay out the site for a new county seat.

During the same time as the county was being organized, two merchants, William Bigelow and J.R. Fulton, ran a general store on the 525 acres of land they owned where the city of Palestine is now located. Seeing a chance to increase the value of their holdings, Bigelow, Fulton,and Fulton’s wife, Selina, offered the committee 100 acres of their land, located in the center of the county, for $500. The Commissioner’s Court decided to accept the Fulton-Bigelow offer. A new town was surveyed and laid out by Johnston Shelton, who filed his maps at the county clerk’s office in August, 1846. John Parker suggested that the new town be named after his family’s former home of Palestine in Crawford County, Illinois. This was agreeable and so the new Anderson County seat got its name.

Between 1850 and 1855 the slave population had more than tripled in Anderson County. It is recorded that when the Anderson County vote was taken to decide if Texas should secede from the union, only seven out of roughly 1500 voters opposed secession. Texas seceded from the union on 01 Feb 1861 and in April of 1861 the first group of volunteer troops left Anderson County. A county judge, John H. Reagan, who was later to be a major driving force in the expansion of Anderson County after the war,was a cabinet member of the Confederate government, serving as the postmaster general. The civil war ended in April, 1865, but most of the population in Texas did not hear the news until the following month. Strong anti-federalist feelings continued to dominate Anderson County, even after the war’s end. The slow, months-long return trip home of Anderson County’s surviving Confederate soldiers only helped to prolong the county’s anti-federalist feelings.

The 1870 census showed a population of 9,229 people in Anderson County. During the next ten years the population would almost double in size, due mainly to the railroad lines coming to the county. The International,the first railroad to come to Anderson County, reached Palestine on 11 July 1872. This marked the end of the ‘riverboat’ era, which had previously been the main source of commercial transportation for the county. On 30 September 1873 the International merged with the Houston and Great Northern.This was an important part of the country’s railroad network and marked a booming railway era for the entire county, but especially for the city of Palestine. By the time of the 1880 census the population of Palestine had doubled to more than 4,000 people. Anderson County’s total population had nearly doubled to 17,395.

Agricultural produce dominated Anderson County from 1880 to 1940, even though traces of oil were found in the county in 1881. In 1902 the first rotary rig was shipped to the county but the first successful oil well wasn’t produced until 1928. The discovery brought prosperity and helped lessen the impact of the Great Depression on the county during the 1930’s, unlike other less fortunate areas of the state.

 

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