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Posts Tagged ‘Alabama’

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One day while sitting around in Marshal Tito’s old villa in Pula, Croatia where he lived, Jolly (a distinguished ex-US Marine officer and accomplished raconteur) told us a story about his great-great-grandfather, Christopher Sheats.

Sheats, from Winston County Alabama, was one of the delegates to the convention of southerners which drafted the Articles of Succession that began the Civil War. At the convention, Sheats strenuously objected to secession but lost.

Upon returning to Winston County, he, at a meeting of Union sympathizers held in Looney’s Tavern, a local meeting place and center of Pro-Union sentiment, declared the county a free state arguing that if states had an inalienable right to secede from the Union then counties have the same inalienable right to secede from a state. The attendees agreed and voted to secede and create their own state.  Sheats called the new state the Free State of Winston and sought to join the Union.

The Confederate State of Alabama arrested him and sentenced him to death by hanging as a traitor. The rope broke saving him. He was imprisoned and escaped, fought for the Union using freed slaves and, according to Jolly, never lost a battle. After the war, he served in Congress.

Because of repeated threats on his life from disgruntled Confederate sympathizers, President Grant appointed him Ambassador to Finland.

After he died, the county refused to bury him in the whites-only cemetery so he was buried in the Blacks-only cemetery with many black people attending the ceremony. Since then almost all members of the Sheats family have chosen to be buried in that same black cemetery.

The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, a musical drama performed regularly in Winston County, tells the story of Christopher Sheats and the Unionist meeting at Looney’s Tavern. It is the official state outdoor musical drama of Alabama.

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(Note: Alabama’s official history does not record the events quite as Jolly described them. Nevertheless, Jolly showed me an old yellow document from the latter decades of the 19th Century, written either by Sheats himself or others in honor of him, that confirmed his story.)

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