Trail Tracker

February 18, 1999 (First Issue)

How Winston County Got Its Name

Many people do not know that Winston County, Alabama was once a part of the Mississippi Territory. It did not become a part of Alabama until Monday, March 3, 1817, when the Alabama Territory was created. On Tuesday, December 14, 1819 Alabama became a state and counties were formed. The area now known as Winston County was a part of Blount County from 1819 until December 1824. In December 1824 it became a part of Walker County. It did not change again until Tuesday, February 12, 1850 when it became a part of the newly created Hancock County, which was named for John Hancock. It was named Hancock County until 1858. On Friday, January 22, 1858, the name was changed to Winston County in honor of John Anthony Winston, the first governor of Alabama that was a native Alabamian. There were no more name changes, but in 1872 the eastern portion of the county was taken to make part of the newly created Cullman County.

John Anthony Winston (1812-1871)

John Anthony Winston, an American political leader, was born in Madison County, Alabama in 1812. In 1840, and again in 1842, he was elected to the lower house of the Alabama legislature; from 1843 to 1852 he was a member of the State senate, and was for several years its presiding officer. In 1853 he was elected governor and in 1855 was re-elected. During his administrations he strongly opposed legislative efforts to extend State aid to railroads, and by vetoing 33 measures of this kind gained the name of "veto governor." On the question of public schools, however, he and the legislature were in agreement, and the session of 1853-1854 marked the beginning of the public school system of the State. When the Civil War broke out he was made colonel of an Alabama regiment and fought at Yorktown and at Seven Pines, but was forced to resign shortly afterward because of bad health. In 1867, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Although, he was denied his seat because he refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Federal Government. John Anthony Winston died in 1871, and is buried in the family cemetery in Livingston, Alabama.

"The Free State Tory Leader"

Charles Christopher "Chris" Sheats was born in what is now Winston County on Wednesday, April 10, 1839 and died Friday, May 27, 1904. This brave young man and teacher of Winston County bravely led the opposition to the secession of Alabama from the Union in the Secession Convention of Monday, January 7, 1861. On Monday, December 24, 1860, the citizens of Winston County elected him to represent the interests of preserving the Union of the United States of America at Alabama's Secession Convention in Montgomery. Chris was an outspoken opponent of the secessionists, using his skills of fiery oratory and persuasion, he defended the Union and Constitution of the United States. His courage won him the trust and respect of Winston Countians, who only sought peace over warfare and justice over enslavement. The people of North Alabama on the whole sought not to be enslaved by the political barons of South Alabama, who were attempting to force their secessionist efforts down upon the backs of citizens who had no real stake in fighting the Union. Chris Sheats was indeed a man who made history live in the hills of North Alabama. His stand against secession and the North Alabama Neutrality Meeting at Looney's Tavern on Thursday, July the 4th, 1861, forever changed Winston County's destiny. As "Uncle Dick" Payne remarked that day, "Oh, oh, Winston secedes, the free state of Winston" shall forever live on as a faithful friend to the Union and to the independent spirit of its people and the United States of America. [Article written by: Scotty K. Burleson (taken from the "Tories of the Hills" written by Wesley S. Thompson, 1960, Carl Elliott Books.) And, the Northwest Alabamian Newspaper.]

Chris Sheats and his grave