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THROWBACK THURSDAY: Winston County, Alabama – Newspaper accounts from 1890 reveal much about politics in Alabama before & after the War Between the States

Winston County, Alabama’s opposition to the Confederacy is briefly mentioned in the novels To Kill a Mockingbird   and Paper Moon: A Novel (formerly Addie Pray)

Tap Roots, a 1948 movie based on a novel, presents a highly fictionalized and inaccurate version of Winston County’s Civil War history.To kill a mockingbird

(continued from Once a section of Alabama seceded from the state – here’s what happened )

Winston County never actually seceded

Although Winston County, Alabama never actually seceded from the State of Alabama and the Confederacy, it was referred to as the Free State of Winston for many years.

Although Winston County’s Unionists wanted to be left alone, the governments of the Confederacy and of Alabama did not oblige. The hill-country Unionists soon faced Confederate conscription beginning in 1862 and many fled their homes, seeking refuge from conscription agents in the county’s rugged forests and canyons.natural bridge

Natural bridge was a gathering point for Unionists

The natural bridge in western Winston County was said to have been a major gathering point for Unionists avoiding the draft or who had deserted from the Confederate Army. From Winston County, many of these Unionists eventually made their way north to the Tennessee River valley and joined the Union Army, most commonly enlisting in the First Alabama Cavalry, USA.

A few of the county’s residents, including Bill Looney, served the Union Army by helping Unionists escape to the safety of Union lines. In July 1862, Colonel Abel D. Streight led a detachment of Union troops into the hills to gather more recruits for the Union Army.


Looney's Tavern


Colonel Abel D. Streight


Unionist farmers fled into the woods to avoid Confederate draft

The Unionist farmers who fled into the woods and to the Union Army to avoid the Confederate draft could not work on their farms. Hence, the county’s residents had difficulty growing enough food. Confederate impressment agents worsened matters by taking food and livestock from the county to feed the Confederate army.

After the Civil War, Winston County became a bastion of the Republican Party in Alabama, in sharp contrast to the overwhelming support for the Democrats in the rest of the state. In 1877, the eastern portion of the county became part of Cullman. The first county seat was Houston, but it moved to Double Springs in 1883.

Double Springs, Winston County, Alabama Courthouse

winston county courthouse double springs

Excerpts from newspapers

The following excerpts from the Mountain Eagle of Walker County, Alabama, provide an idea of the hard feelings on both side after the Civil War about the incident:

Mountain Eagle, September 8, 1886

In Winston county there are only seventeen negroes, and out of that number only one voter. Another singular fact is that Winston, the whitest of all the white counties, was until recently the banner Republican county of the State. It furnished quite a number of soldiers to the Federal army. C.C. Sheets, who is a native of Winston county, has always been the leader of the people there and they followed him implicitly.–Advertiser.

Mountain Eagle, April 23, 1890

Winston’s First Convention. A special correspondent from Double Springs to the Birmingham Age-Herald says: The Democratic county convention of Winston convened here today. Hon. R.D. Templeton was elected chairman, with C.D. Hudgins for secretary. The convention adopted the platform of the last state and national conventions.

Hon. P.H. Newman was nominated for representative. Hon. Allen Weiler, A.M., principal of the Godfrey high school was nominated for county superintendent of education. The vote in both cases were unanimous. James Blanton was chosen a delegate to the state convention, with Duncan Wilson, alternate. Charles D. Hudgins the congressional delegate, with W.R. Bonds, Jr., as alternate. The delegates are uninstructed.

After the business of the convention was disposed of Hon. P.H. Newman was called for and made a brief but pointed speech, in which he pledged himself to support the principles of his party willingly, and, if elected, to labor for what he thought the best interests of his county and state at large. Mr. Newman’s remarks about the race issue in the South were exceedingly caustic, and whoever carries the Republican banner in this county will have a warm time defending his party from Mr. Newman’s fire on this point. Mr. Newman has served two terms in the general assembly and knows what he is about.

Hon. Allen Weiler and Hon. Duncan Wilson also made brief and telling speeches before the convention.

This is the first convention ever held in Winston county, and from the indications it is prophesied that it will result in Winston county going into Democratic tanks this summer.

Mountain Eagle, February 22, 1893

Winston County. An Eagle Scribe Visits The Free State. There is no county in Alabama that is more abused and at the same time a more profitable field for investment than the “Free State of Winston.” After an absence of eight or ten years it was the privilege of an Eagle representative to attend the recent spring session of the circuit court at Double Springs, the county site of old Winston, and that time had worked gratifying changes at once impressed us. True, the county is poor, and the people are poor, the roads are execrable, and the waters are menacing–but Winston is still on hand top-side up with mineral wealth, an abundance of good timber, and a veritable elixir of good health and good cheer.

The court passed off quietly enough–no capital case on the docket, a few trifling misdemeanors and but little civil litigations of consequence claimed the attention of our juvenile Judge Banks on the occasion of his first visit, but the Judge, as well as the court was “carried away” with the open handed hospitality and good feeling which animated everybody with whom they came in contact.

The charged delivered on Monday evening was listened to bated breath, and our new and capable Judge is indeed a “high flyer” so far as Winston is concerned, adapting himself readily to existing conditions and having a “hail fellow well met” with everybody with whom he came in contact, he established himself “forever and a day” in the good graces of the honest yeomanry of Winston.

Perhaps the most graceful act of Judge Banks was the prompted dismissal of two unfortunate women and their little children who were incarcerated on a charge of vagrancy and prostitution. The State surely cannot be so jealous of the liberties of her citizens as to insist on the conviction and punishment of such unfortunates, and we incline to the belief that the Judge’s lecture was of infinitely more advantage to the culprits than a term in the mines.

Judge W.R. Adkins, the veteran Winston journalist still conducts the Winston Herald while his son Geo. W. is editor and proprietor of the Eastern Star, published at Houston, the old county site. Mr. M.D. Townley is the proprietor of the Observer, a Republican paper published at Double Springs. We regret to say that these papers are at outs. The longest pole will get the persimmon.

Young men have charge of the county business, most of the officers being of Republican antecedents and proclivities. Mr. E. Blanton, formerly of Walker county, drives a prosperous mercantile business at the Springs, and the writer has pleasure in here acknowledging courtesies shown him. The venerable Esquire R.D. Templeton runs the Templeton Hotel. We regret that we found him in extremely bad health, and sincerely wish him an early recovery.

The attendance at court was extremely orderly and the absence of old “John Barleycorn” was as gratifying as noticeable. Court was held in the store house of A.J. Ingle, one of the oldest and most prominent citizens of the county, who is also vigorously opposed to the issuance of bonds to construct a new court house.

It is evident, however, that if Double Springs continues to be the seat of justice, she must take steps to rebuild her court house; for there are now several competitors for this distinguished honor and among them we may mention Haleyville which is perhaps the largest incorporated town in Winston. As the guest of Mr. Charley L. Haley, one of the most enterprising merchants of Haleyville, it was our privilege and pleasure to spend a night in that nobby little town, and that we had a delightful time everybody who knows Charley Haley will vouch.

The town is handsomely located on the celebrated Byler road, 40 miles above Jasper, and is the most important shipping point on the B.S.&T. between Jasper and Russellville. The mercantile profession is represented by C.L. Haley, J.R. Miller, A.J. Ingle & Co., Freeman & son, and Dr. J.C. Taylor, besides doing a fine medical practice, has a well equipped drug store in successful operation. Miss Belle Phillips, a most estimable and accomplished young lady, is driving an interesting school known as the “Haleyville High School,” which has an average attendance of 40 pupils, and is at the same time giving universal satisfaction.

Mr. F.M. McDonald is running a well equipped saw and planing mill and the country contiguous is well timbered is evidenced by the fact that piled on the side of the railroad awaiting shipment is some 20,000 railroad ties which were gotten out at renumerative prices by farmers owning lands in the vicinity.

Natural Bridge, Delmar and Lynn are interesting points in Winston to which we shall call attention in a future issue. In the meantime the readers of the Eagle are assured that the “Free State” is coming to the front at a 2:40 gait.

Mountain Eagle, June 1, 1904

Col. C.C. Sheats Dead. Col. C.C. Sheats was found dead in bed at his home in Decatur last Thursday morning. He had been in bad health for some time and has been unable to walk for several months.

Col. Sheats was a noted character of Alabama. He was one of the members of the secession convention who voted against Alabama going out of the Union. He was raised in Winston county and at one time was United States minister to Denmark. He was, shortly after the war, elected governor of the state, but was counted out.

Formally he owned valuable property in Decatur, but died a pauper in a hovel on Bank street. One of the handsomest residences in the city was his, but he willed it to his wife, who recently died, and who obtained a divorce from him some time ago.outdoor drama

Alabama’s official Outdoor Musical Drama, “The Incident at Looney’s Tavern,” was based on a factual meeting that unfolded in Alabama’s Winston County during the opening stages of the War Between the States.

The first performances of “The Incident at Looney’s Tavern” were staged in a shopping center parking lot in 1987. It was such a success that the theatre was built. The play was designated as Alabama’s official state drama in 1993.

However, the program was discontinued in the 2000’s and the drama is no longer produced.




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  1. This was extremely interesting! However, it is so sad that it fell away from being enterprising so the story is lost to many. I am born and raised Northwest kid who until I lost my own father and got interested in history of our family and my husbands’ family did I learn about this occurrence!

    Thanks to the people who performed this and who made a documentary of it!!! Most of all thanks Donna R. Causey for making it possible for me to view this!!

    1. If you found this interesting you should read the book ” Torries of the hills”. It tells the story about Winston county before and during the war. Great book but very hard to find a copy. Tories of the hills

    2. I have always wondered if The Free State of Winston ever had a flag. Does anyone know? If so, I would like to see it flown with the other six flags that have flown over Alabama soil. I do not believe any other state could match that diversity and courage. I think it would be a tremendous statement.

  2. Sharon Patton Sodders

    My Uncle Dan White had a part in To Kill A Mockingbird.!

  3. Kevin Greene

    Marion County almost seceded too but was pressured not to. Two good books on this are “Southerners in Blue” by Don Umphrey and “Tories in the Hills” by Wesley Thompson.

  4. Remember Tuscumbia

    Used to be a play at Looney’s Tavern each summer about the Free State of Winston. I haven’t seen any ads lately, may have shut down.

  5. David Rabren

    There was strong resentment against Winston County for not supporting the secession. Reportedly all the counties sent someone to a meeting in Montgomery concerning secession and fighting against the North. A man named Sheets represented Winston County. He stated that there were only 3 slaves in the entire county, and didn’t think they were worth fighting a war over. Sure wish the other counties in the state had been as insightful about the situation.

  6. My family lived in Winston County during the Civil War and I am a direct decendent of a member of Co. K, First Alabama Calvary, USA. I am very proud of tha fact and I live in Winston County today and yes I am a Republican, but please for the love of God, let me set the record straight, Winston County did not secede from the State. There was not and is not any legal way for that to happen. This is a fact so please stop trying to write history after the fact.

    1. Yes, I said that in the second paragraph in the article. Winston County never seceded from the state Alabama. I explained what took place in the article.

    2. If we say that Winston County never seceded from the state of Alabama because secession is illegal then couldn’t we also say that none of the purported southern states suceded either? Yet no one ever makes a point to say that those states “never seceded” yet people always have to mention that Winston County “didn’t”.

  7. Charles Moore

    Several north Alabama counties voted against secession on the original vote but changed their vote to show loyalty after the seccessionists won.

  8. Andrea Fulmer

    1907 census free state of Winston – includes my ancestor John Blackwell… confederate soldier originally from GA

    1. Annette Scruggs Casteel

      The Estes man is my great-great-grandfather. Visited the little cemetery just a couple of months ago.

  9. Carolyn Cornelius Franks

    My grandfathers brother joined the Confederates then left them an went to the Union because they paid more. Come to find out their money was good. But anyway he was from Winston County Ashridge an is buried at the Freewill Baptist Church in Ashridge. His picture is on his tall headstone in a Union uniform. This is true.

  10. Wanda Terry

    My relatives also were from Winston County and served in the Union

    1. Wanda Terry

      They served with the 1st. Alabama Calvary. I have done lots of research on this part of my family history. That area of the state is beautiful

  11. Caroline Jones Lockridge

    In the History of Walker County published in the 30’s, documents the unwillingness of Walker county’s delegation to vote for secession citing it will be bad for business. They finally went along with protest. The Mountain Eagle is in Walker County. Must have been owned by a secessionist.

  12. Donald L. Burleson

    If you want to read the closest truth, read “TORIES OF THE HILLS.”

    1. Annette Scruggs Casteel

      Have you read “Southerners in Blue?” It is good too. Written by Don Umphrey. He has ties to this area; related to the Phillips family in Bear Creek. Historically accurate and talks about the families in this area.

    2. Donald L. Burleson

      No, have looked for it though. Wesley S Thompson who wrote Tories was a friend of my Dad’s. He taught school at Bear Creek if I am not mistaken.

  13. Annette Scruggs Casteel

    Yes, Scout’s teacher was from Winston County.

  14. Annette Scruggs Casteel

    The statue in front of the courthouse in Winston County is interesting; “Dual Destiny”

  15. Mary Quimby

    Woowee!! I’m proud to say I’m from Winston County, Alabama!!!

  16. Patsy Pennington

    Everyone should read the book and then watch the movie

  17. BryanandLawanda Hall

    Read tories of the hills. Great book on this subject

    1. Audie Kennedy

      I just did a search for that book. They don’t have it at my local library, it’s $250 at Amazon! I’ll just have to put it on my “want to read” list.

    2. BryanandLawanda Hall

      I have an original copy that was gifted to me by an elderly friend before she passed away. I cherish it

    3. Marie Davis

      My great uncle wanted Cecil B. DeMille to make a movie from the book. I have wanted to read it for years. I finally got it on inter-library loan last week. Go to your local library and order it. The cost was $5.00. I am so glad I took five minutes and $5 to finally read it. It wasn’t just Winston County. The author talked to people who lived through that terrible time and he tells the story with real events and real names.

    4. BryanandLawanda Hall

      Yes Marie Davis, there are still decedent’s from those families that live in this area today

    5. Marie Davis

      I guess the new “Free State of Jones” movie has revived interest. There were many split families in Fayette, Marion and Walker Counties as well. Afterwards, nobody wanted to talk about it. They just wanted to move on with their lives. Many of those families came from the Carolinas and probably grew up hearing their grandparents tell stories of how brutal the Rev War was. They were resilient, strong people to have survived.

  18. Steven Wheeler

    You can still see references to the Free State of Winston in places there.

  19. I wonder why it was “such a white” county? Any ideas?

  20. Great-great-great grandfather Daniel H. Young (I have copies of his Probate) (born 13 Mar 1814 Davidson Co, TN; died 7 Mar 1878, Jones Chapel, Cullman Co, AL — Jones Chapel was formerly part of “Free State of Winston”. He was Post Master there at one time.). Great-great-great grandmother is unknown. Great-great grandfather was John Wesley Young (born about 1838, Alabama; died at Decatur, Morgan Co. AL (of disease) on 25 Jun 1864 in AL First Cavalry). Great-great grandmother was Elizabeth P(aralee?) Jones (her parents unknown). She was born about 1834 in Georgia. She died 18 Feb 1902 in Alabama. They were married 5 Jan 1849 (1859?) in Winston Co. AL (probably Jones Chapel) at the house of John C. Jones. Married by John B. Nesmith, J.P. Witnesses were William W. Young (probably his brother) and Martha A. Plemmons (relationship — if any — unknown). Any kin here? Especially those interested in the pages of the probate record. I also made films of cemetery visits in Cullman, Walker and Winston. I made one of a cemetery in Morgan but I think the battery had died and nothing was captured. The films are all on those old VHS cartridges. Also visited the Cullman Public Library — their history room is great! And some of the court houses. And got copies of documents and made notes at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville. Both libraries have Family Files which should definitely be checked. Happy Hunting to all!

  21. My Family, BISHOP”S are from Bear Creek, Al…Winston county and Rode in the 1 st ALABAMA CALVARY ( Union ) in the Civil war..

  22. Donna, I truly love all the works you do for all of us. I grew up in Japan and Korea and loved hearing my mother’s stories of the South. She was raised in Tishomingo County Mississippi and her family had a long history there on the Tessessee river.
    I adopted Alabama as my home after I came out of the military and love your writings.

    1. I’m happy you enjoy them. We enjoy discovering them.

  23. Elizabeth Reames

    Some good info but you left out the best part….Nathan Bedford Forrest. Please do better.

  24. Bob Booth

    Weren’t they Amish ?

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