Several explanations have been proposed for the origin of the name Free State of Van Zandt for Van Zandt County. The first is that when Van Zandt and Kaufman counties were formed from Henderson County, all debts for the area were retained by Henderson County, and consequently Van Zandt County became known as a debt-free territory. Resentful politicians of Henderson County thereafter referred to Van Zandt County as a free state. Another explanation states that in 1861 some 350 residents attended a meeting to protest secession. They reasoned that if Texas could leave the Union, then Van Zandt County could leave the state of Texas. These people tried to organize a government until they were threatened with military intervention. In another story, a slaveowner from out of the state came through Van Zandt County seeking a place to keep his slaves after Confederate setbacks. Asked if Van Zandt County would suffice, the man replied, "Hell no, I had as soon think of taking them to a free state. I came all the way from Quitman and never so much as saw a slave." In yet another tale, during Reconstruction residents declared Van Zandt County independent of state and national authority. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan sent troops, eventually captured the perpetrators, and imprisoned them near Canton. Although the rebels had temporarily routed the United States troops, in their eagerness to celebrate they drank too much and failed to post a guard. All eventually escaped.
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Margaret Elizabeth Hall, A History of Van Zandt County (Austin: Jenkins, 1976). William Samuel Mills, History of Van Zandt County (Canton, Texas, 1950).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Gerald F. Kozlowski,
“Free State of Van Zandt,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 23, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
January 1, 1995