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FREDONIA, TX (GREGG COUNTY)

FREDONIA, TEXAS (Gregg County). Fredonia was on the south bank of the Sabine River in northern Rusk County. The site is now in central Gregg County on Farm Road 2087 and Interstate Highway 20, 4½ miles southwest of the county courthouse in Longview. The town was established by Haden Edwardsqv, whose earlier colonization efforts had been beset by controversy (see FREDONIAN REBELLION) and whose colonization contract of 1825 had been canceled. Fredonia was located on land that Edwards acquired through a first-class headright. He filed the survey for the site on March 20, 1838. On November 14, 1839, he issued a broadside printed in Nacogdoches advertising the sale of lots in each of two new townsites on the Sabine. The planned towns were Fredonia, some sixty miles north of Nacogdoches, and Cotton-Plant, about forty miles from Fredonia. The territory, "lately occupied by the Northern Indians," was a tract that had been claimed by the Cherokees who first entered Texas in 1819–20 and who numbered about 800 in the early 1830s. The district was also inhabited by members of allied groups from the eastern United States and by two indigenous Caddo groups.

Borders of the district included the Old San Antonio Road to the south, the Sabine River to the north, and the Neches and Angelina rivers to the west and east. Despite repeated attempts, the Cherokees had never been able to establish a secure title to this land, and in the summer of 1839 the Indians living there had been driven out of Texas by President Mirabeau B. Lamar and others antagonistic to their presence (see CHEROKEE WAR). Fredonia was located very near the northeast corner of what had been the Cherokee claim.

Edwards received a patent for the league including the site of Fredonia on February 10, 1843. On July 7 he was issued a license to operate a ferry across the Sabine at Fredonia, at a spot then known as Cotton's Crossing. Travel to and from Fredonia was accomplished by roads north and south to Gilmer and Nacogdoches. The north road crossed the Shreveport-Tyler Road (Red Rock Road) near Pine Tree. It was a long time before a direct east-west route was established. One had to go either north or south before reaching a road going east and west. Later the Longview-Fredonia road, beginning in Longview as Fredonia Street, was cleared, as was the Wallings Ferry Road.

Very little documentary evidence of the town has been found. No plat of Fredonia can be found nor one showing the "2,000 lots" advertised in Edwards's 1839 broadside. Outlines of the town can be seen on early maps of the Edwards league. Deeds of record establish the existence of Fredonia, and at least fifty-five documents from 1851 to 1883 in the Rusk County Courthouse refer to the town of Fredonia. Deed Record Books B, C, D, and E of Rusk County were destroyed in a fire at Henderson in 1877.

River traffic to and from the Gulf of Mexico, especially from New Orleans, stopped at Fredonia. The first steamship to reach town was the Buffalo in 1848. At one time the Sabine was navigable for 300 miles, but travel was not regular or necessarily year-round; it was said to have been "informal." The steamboats had very shallow drafts, no more than eighteen inches; the boilers on the decks resulted in many fires and accidents. The boats often went aground in shallow water, and on these occasions they would either have to turn around and go back downstream or wait until upstream rains raised the river level. The captains always kept themselves informed as to the river conditions, though communications were poor. The boats were equipped with "snag-cutting" booms, winches, and other means with which to extricate themselves from riverbank and bottom troubles. An alternate route for river traffic was used when the Sabine was not navigable to Fredonia. Shipments could be sent up the Red River, through Caddo Lake to Port Caddo, the official port of entry to Texas in this area, then freighted by wagon to Fredonia. This, however, meant an overland trip of more than fifty miles.

By the 1850s Fredonia had developed into a thriving town. It had three warehouses, principally for cotton, forty to fifty buildings including houses, and a cemetery. A post office operated there from 1849 to 1855 and from 1856 to 1859. Waide and Wilson, an apparently successful general store, sold such commodities as combs of many types and fine champagne. Most of the inventory came up the Sabine from New Orleans. This firm, in all probability, was the first retail establishment in what is now Gregg County. Some financial difficulties must have developed; a New Orleans wholesale supplier complained about delays in Mr. Waide's remittances, which had not occurred in previous transactions.

Fredonia's advantage was that of having good transportation by means of a river. The location already had a well-known river crossing. This subsequently became known as Fredonia Crossing. In 1871 the Texas legislature granted the authority to operate the ferry to J. H. Jones and Henry Miller. In May 1884 the commissioners' court of Gregg County contracted for construction of the Fredonia Bridge, which was used for seventy-one years, until the completion of the present bridge in 1955 on the Old Longview-Kilgore Highway, Farm Road 2087. The Civil War and Reconstruction hurt Fredonia as it did all of the South. In 1870 the town was not listed in the post office directory. After the Civil War, a new settlement named Fredonia, formed by freed blacks, grew up about two miles south of the original townsite. This community was still listed, without population statistics, in 1990.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Mary Whatley Clarke, Chief Bowles and the Texas Cherokees (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971). Richard B. Levy, History of the Creation of Gregg County, Texas (MS, Genealogy Department, Longview Public Library, Longview, Texas). Eugene W. McWhorter, Traditions of the Land: The History of Gregg County (Longview, Texas: Gregg County Historical Foundation, 1989). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Haden Harrison Edwards). E. W. Winkler, "The Cherokee Indians in Texas," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 7 (October 1903). Louis J. Wortham, A History of Texas (5 vols., Fort Worth: Wortham-Molyneaux, 1924).

Norman W. Black

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Norman W. Black, "FREDONIA, TX (GREGG COUNTY)," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hrf24), accessed November 26, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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