Anderson County, Texas

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The United States, as part of the mislabeled Florida Purchase Treatyof 1819, abandoned its tentative claims to territory that included whatwould eventually become Texas. Three years later, due largely in part tocivil unrest within the mother country, Mexico gained its independencefrom Spain. In August, 1821, Stephen Fuller Austin was authorized by theMexican government to enact the colonization enterprise first planned byhis father, Moses Austin, before his death. By December of the same yearthe first colonists began to arrive in Texas. Widespread mortgage foreclosurebecause of the economic panic of 1819, and changes to the Land Act in 1820made settlers eager to move to Austin's colony. The conditions of the grantsaid that Austin would get three hundred American families, of the establishedRoman Catholic faith, to immigrate to the Texas territory, and that theywould become properly Mexicanized. These conditions were generally ignored.Several other colonies were soon started by others, but Stephen Austinremained the main driving force behind the American colonization of MexicanTexas. 

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

  In early June, 1835, Joseph Jordan and William Ewing boughtsome land, two miles southeast of present day Palestine, at a spot nowknown as the John H. Reagan home site. A town called Houston was startedthere and by order of Gen. Sam Houston, a fort was built in the publicsquare. The fort was naturally enough called Fort Houston. On 02 November1835, Texas declared its right to secede from Mexico. The Mexican dictator,Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna declared Texas a state in revolt and begana military campaign of suppression. On 23 February 1836 a small missionfort in south central Texas called San Antonio de Valero, now commonlyknown as the Alamo, was attacked by units of the Mexican army. Santa Annadirected his army to ruthlessly slaughter the group of hopelessly out numberedTexas rebels after they refused to surrender the fort. Accompanied by criesof "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. Texasindependence was proclaimed a short time later and the new country wasnamed "The Republic of Texas". 

  Santa Anna's attacks destroyed most of the American settlementswest 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 SantaAnna's defeat. On 19 May 1836, Parker's Fort was attacked by CommancheIndians and nearly all of the families were killed.  A couple survivorswere captured and the rest fled back to Fort Houston. 

  In 1838, Rev. Daniel Parker, who had moved north of Brown'sFort to build his home in an area near present-day Elkhart, helped builda small, single room church near his home. The church, now called "OldPilgrim", is the oldest Protestant church in Texas. In October of the sameyear, Gen. Thomas Rusk was informed that hostile Indians were camped ata place called Kickapoo, near what is now Frankston, in northeastern AndersonCounty. At the time he was marching with over two hundred men to Fort Houstonto fight marauding Mexicans and Indians. His successful raid of the Indiancamp, which ended Indian hostilities in eastern Texas for the rest of thatyear, was the only large scale battle against hostile Indians recordedwithin 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 wouldbecome Anderson County was first formed as part of Houston County, buton 24 March 1846, the First Legislature of the state of Texas respondedto a petition presented by settlers from around the Fort Houston area tocreate 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 areaof 1,077 square miles, making it the 52nd largest of the 254 counties inTexas. 

  It was suggested that the county be named Burnet, in honorof David G. Burnet, but instead it was named Anderson, after Kenneth LewisAnderson, Vice-President of the Republic of Texas from 1844 until the state'sannexation. The same act passed by Legislature that created Anderson Countyalso stated that its seat had to be within three miles of the geographiccenter of the county. Strong competition broke out between the towns ofFort Houston and Mound Prairie, both wanting to claim the privilege ofbeing the county seat. The county was organized on 13 July 1846 and FortHouston served as the county seat. A month later it was found that FortHouston was too far off the center of the county, so a committee, composedof Dan Lumpkin, William Turner Sadler, and John Parker was appointed tofind and lay out the site for a new county seat. 

  During the same time as the county was being organized, twomerchants, William Bigelow and J.R. Fulton, ran a general store on the525 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 Courtdecided to accept the Fulton-Bigelow offer. A new town was surveyed andlaid out by Johnston Shelton, who filed his maps at the county clerk'soffice in August, 1846. John Parker suggested that the new town be namedafter 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 tripledin Anderson County. It is recorded that when the Anderson County vote wastaken to decide if Texas should secede from the union, only seven out ofroughly 1500 voters opposed secession. Texas seceded from the union on01 Feb 1861 and in April of 1861 the first group of volunteer troops leftAnderson County. A county judge, John H. Reagan, who was later to be amajor driving force in the expansion of Anderson County after the war,was a cabinet member of the Confederate government, serving as the postmastergeneral. The civil war ended in April, 1865, but most of the populationin Texas did not hear the news until the following month. Strong anti-federalistfeelings continued to dominate Anderson County, even after the war's end.The slow, months-long return trip home of Anderson County's surviving Confederatesoldiers only helped to prolong the county's anti-federalist feelings. 

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

  Agricultural produce dominated Anderson County from 1880 to1940, even though traces of oil were found in the county in 1881. In 1902the first rotary rig was shipped to the county but the first successfuloil well wasn't produced until 1928. The discovery brought prosperity andhelped lessen the impact of the Great Depression on the county during the1930's, unlike other less fortunate areas of the state. 

Modern Statistical Information and Facts: 

  The rural county of Anderson is the 52nd largest of the 254counties in Texas; consisting of 1,072 square miles with an estimated populationof  48,024 in 1990, with a population density 47.60 residents persquare mile; the average density in Texas is 65.6 persons per square mile.In 1991 the estimated county population was 49,393. The rainfall in thecounty averages 41.70 inches per year, compared to the Texas average of21.0 inches per year. The county seat is Palestine and the next most significantcity is Elkhart. Anderson county falls within the 11th Texas congressionaldistrict and the 3rd Texas senatorial district. Five units of the TexasDepartment of Criminal Justice are located at Tennessee Colony, in thesouthwestern part of the county. 

MoreHistory Resources

Soldiers ofSan Jacinto

The Darius P. Owens Letter of 1850

History Items in the Archives


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