It’s not possible to be more truly Southern culturally than the residents of the state of Alabama. That’s why it’s surprising to realize that one Alabama county did not support secession and refused to join the Confederacy willingly.
Winston County is located in a hilly area in the northwestern part of the state. As described in “Fact and Fiction in the Free State of Winston“, settlement came late to this little corner, with the first permanent settlers of European descent arriving only in 1814. They had more in common with the rugged, independent pioneers of Appalachia and the Tennessee Valley than they did with the genteel plantation owners further downstate, and they were ardent supporters of Andrew Jackson and his populist views. Residents established their county seat in Houston and later (and presently) in Double Springs.
With the Civil War looming there were only 14 slave holders with 122 slaves in all of Winston County, a minuscule part of the population. Even today the African-American population is less than four tenths of a percent. When Alabama joined the confederacy, Winston County did not follow. They passed a resolution that included a strong affirmation of their beliefs:
We agree with Jackson that no state can legally get out of the union; but if we are mistaken in this, and a state can lawfully and legally secede or withdraw, being only a part of the Union, then a county, any county, being a part of the state, by the same process of reasoning, could cease to be a part of the state.
We think that our neighbors in the South made a mistake when they bolted, resulting in the election of Mr. Lincoln, and that they made a greater mistake when they attempted to secede and set up a new government. However, we do not desire to see our neighbors in the South mistreated, and, therefore, we are not going to take up arms against them; but on the other hand, we are not going to shoot at the flag of our fathers, “Old Glory,” the Flag of Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson. Therefore, we ask that the Confederacy on the one hand, and the Union on the other, leave us alone, unmolested, that we may work out our political and financial destiny here in the hills and mountains of northwest Alabama.
A confederate sympathizer sarcastically referred to this resolution as the creation of the “Free State of Winston” and the name stuck. In actuality, while desiring neutrality, the residents of Winston County never received this courtesy and its men were conscripted into the Confederate army under threat of arrest, imprisonment and execution.