Van Zandt: What's Behind the Interesting County Name?


Now entering Van Zandt County. Perhaps a mystery to many, the county is the namesake of one of the foremost early Texans.

His name was Isaac Van Zandt, and he was born in Tennessee in 1813. His family had immigrated to America from Holland prior to the Revolutionary War.

The family moved to the Republic of Texas in 1838. One year later, he relocated to the area now known as Marshall, Harrison County. While his merchant business saw limited success, he became interested in public speaking and was reportedly good at it. After passing the bar to become an attorney, work in government started to appeal to him. He represented Harrison County in the Republic's House of Representatives for two years starting in 1840. In 1841 Van Zandt donated land, along with Peter Whetestone, to make Marshall the county seat for Harrison County. Van Zandt named the new city in honor of the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Marshall. 

In 1842, Sam Houston appointed Van Zandt to the Republic of Texas Chargé d'Affaires initiative in Washington, DC. As the Republic of Texas ambassador to the United States, Van Zandt was instrumental in crafting the Annexation Treaty of the Republic of Texas to the U.S.

Van Zandt returned to Texas in 1845 to serve as a delegate to the Texas state constitutional convention.

On October 11, 1847, as a Texas gubernatorial candidate, Van Zandt died of yellow fever. He was stricken while campaigning in Houston and was buried in Marshall.

The County of Van Zandt was named after him in 1848. The county courthouse lawn in Canton features a statue of him and his wife, Frances. 

Ironically, while the man whose legacy was construction leadership, the early days of Van Zandt County that bore his name was less so. Van Zandt County was commonly known as the "Free State of Van Zandt." At first that was due to the county being split off of Henderson County with no financial obligation, even though Henderson had debt. 

Also, the county tried on two distinct occasions to assert its independent spirit and separate itself from Texas. The first was in 1861 when Texas seceded from the United States during the Civil War. Most citizens in the county did not own slaves and did not want to leave the Union. After Texas reentered the Union after the Civil War, Van Zandt County again tried to secede from Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States. They penned a declaration of independence that was viewed as rebellion by the federal government. Tensions mounted and so Van Zandt County declared war on the U.S. 

Military intervention was thwarted because the U.S. Army did not navigate the wooded areas. The Van Zandt troops celebrated with excessive alcohol, and the federal troops, keeping watch, took many prisoners from the drunken scene. The prisoners, however, escaped soon thereafter and it seemed the single skirmish was enough for both sides to lose interest in continuing.


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