History of Van Zandt County, Texas

Van Zandt County Genealogical Society


The wonderful photo above is that of James I. Allen, deceased, father of Elvis Allen of Fruitvale in Van Zandt County. Both have been lifelong and proud residents of this county. Elvis is the County Historian for the Van Zandt County Genealogical Society and a member of the Van Zandt County Historical Commission. Without doubt, he knows more about the county than anyone else. We offer the History below from various sources and it is only a small part of the county's rich heritage. We selected the photo for the header for this page, in honor of Elvis Allen and his father, but also because it represents very well what Van Zandt County has always been, a rural farming county. Although the vast cotton fields, the cane patches, the peach orchards, the sweet potato fields, the market farms are mostly a thing of the past, the county still retains its rural atmosphere with cattle dotting the green and lush country landscape.


Some History of Van Zandt County

Van Zandt County was created by Act of the Legislature on March 20, 1848 from the territory of Henderson County. Prior to that, on 27 Apr 1846, Henderson County had been created out of the Nacogdoches Municipality which included at the time the territory of the present counties of Henderson, Rockwall, Kaufman, Van Zandt, Wood and Rains. In 1850, Wood and Rains counties were created from Van Zandt. A portion of Kaufman County was added to Van Zandt County which led to the present boundaries.

Researchers should be aware that these last changes were made after the 1850 Federal census was taken. Also, those living in the western section will be listed on the Kaufman County census. Because of these changes, the county seat was moved from Jordan's Saline to the town of Canton, being more in the geographical center of the county.

Van Zandt County was named after Isaac Van Zandt who was born in Franklin Co., TN on 10 July 1819. His parents were Jacob and Mary Van Zandt. His family on both sides were of Revolutionary War Patriot heritage. In his early youth, he suffered from ill health which kept him from attending school and obtaining a formal education. However, he made up for this because of his love of reading and learning. At age 20 he married Fannie Lipscomb and with his father took up merchandising.

When his father died he migrated to Mississippi where he continued in the merchandising business. But when a crash came in 1837, he found himself almost penniless. He took up the study of law and found a future career. Through diligent study, he obtained admission to the Bar. In 1838, with his family, Isaac migrated to Texas. He soon rose rapidly in his profession and was elected to Congress of the Republic in 1840.

His next official position was that of charge d'affaires to the United States, appointed by President Sam Houston. He spent two years in Washington where he worked very hard to bring about the annexation of Texas to the union. In 1845, he was a delegate to the convention that completed the work of annexation, and framed the first Constitution of the Lone Star State. In 1847, while he was actively seeking the office of the governor, he was stricken with yellow fever and died at Houston in October.

His remains were transferred to Marshall and interred at the city cemetery. The next year, in 1848, the county was formed and named for this popular man who had made such a difference in Texas history.


Another Interesting History of Van Zandt County
written around the turn of the century and published in the Old Southland Newspaper


The territory of this county, as with all the other territory of Texas prior to 1836 a part of Mexico, and was in the state of Coahulla and Texas. It was included in the Cherokee territory granted by the Mexican government under agreement by Don Felix Tresplacios in 1822 and confirmed by Augustine Y. Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico, on the 27th of April, 1823. It was in the territory further awarded to the Cherokees in a treaty of peace by Sam Houston et al., February 1836. It was also included in common with surrounding territory in the Fredonian Republic, an ephemeral government established about the year 1830 with headquarters at Nacogdoches, with Hayden at its head. In a more continuous stream of governmental authority it was a part of Nacogdoches municipality, the real specific boundary of which is not known, but it comprehended much of East Texas. The western portion of the county was comprehended in Mercer's colony.

Soon after Texas was admitted into the American Union and on April 27, 1846, Henderson county was created out of the Nacogdoches municipality and included the territory of the present counties of Henderson, Rockwall, Kaufman, Van Zandt,Wood and Rains. By act of the legislature, March 20, 1848, Van Zandt county was created from the territory of Henderson county, and embraced its present territory, also that of Wood and much of Rains county. Jordan Saline was designated by that act as the county capital for two years.

A court house was built of logs and covered with boards and was indeed a rude structure. The first election took place the first Monday in August, 1848, when eighty-seven votes were polled in the county, and the following officers were elected: Gilbert Yarborough, Chief Justice, very like our present county judge; John Jordan, Thos. Horseley, Joseph Fisher and Isaac Clark, County Commissioners; P.S. Benton, Sheriff; James D. Wright, District Clerk; A. Fitzgerald, County Clerk; W.C. Greer, Assessor of Taxes; Carey L. Rice, County Surveyor: Peter Kuykendall, County Treasurer.

Later in her history Wood county was formed, and Rains county, until her territory was fixed as it now exists. It is now bounded on the north by Rockwall and Rains counties, on the east by Wood county, on the south by Henderson county, on the west by Kaufman and Rockwall. It is located on the border line between the great timbered section of East Texas and the magnificent prairie country of the west. It is bisected from east to west by the Texas and Pacific railway and is some forty or fifty miles east of Dallas, on the said railway. It comprehends the railroad towns of Wills Point, Edgewood and Grand Saline, besides the smaller towns of Silver Lake and Fruitvale. Canton, its capital, is ten miles south of the railroad, but near the geographical center of the county. The county began to settle up in the early forties. Probably the first settler was Adam Sullivan.

Adam Sullivan was the first to set a plow to land in Van Zandt County.


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