Haden Edwards was a dreamer and a schemer. He dreamed of making his fortune on East Texas land, then schemed to carve a republic out of the Piney Woods.
But in January 1827, Edwards’ plans for the Fredonia Republic came crashing down in a near-bloodless war.
Edwards, born in Virginia in 1771, arrived in East Texas in 1825. He planned to make his fortune by relocating Americans in Mexican-owned Texas. The Mexican government issued Edwards a land grant letting him locate 800 families in the Nacogdoches area.
Almost immediately, Edwards angered longtime residents by requiring them to prove they owned the land they lived on. Otherwise, the land would go to settlers Edwards was bringing in from the United States. Edwards finally agreed to let the old settlers stay on their land, but only if they would pay him $520.
Then Edwards tried to get his brother-in-aw elected alcalde (mayor), although his opponent appeared to have won the election.
Mexican authorities in San Antonio received so many complaints that they eventually revoked Edwards’ land grant and ordered him to leave Texas.
But Edwards had other ideas. Having already spent some $50,000 to create his colony, Edwards and his supporters — mostly newcomers from the U.S. — met in Nacogdoches and on Dec 21, 1826, boldly proclaimed the new Republic of Fredonia.
Edwards promised local Cherokees a huge portion of East Texas land if they would join the so-called “Fredonian Rebellion” against Mexican authorities. However, only a handful of Cherokees supported the Fredonians.
It was at this time that Stephen F. Austin, the so-called “Father of Texas,” got involved in the conflict. Austin already had a thriving colony of settlers and feared Edwards’ actions would adversely affect future settlement of Texas.
Austin assembled a small group of his Anglo settlers into a militia and joined up with a troop of 120 Mexican soldiers and cavalrymen marching from San Antonio to arrest Edwards and his followers.
Along the way, the Mexican troops decided to fire a cannon early one morning in camp. Austin’s Texans, not to be outdone, loaded their own cannon and lit the fuse. The blast blew off the cannon’s muzzle, much to the Texans’ embarrassment and amusement of the Mexicans.
The cannon was practically the only casualty of the Fredonian Rebellion. A couple of small skirmishes saw the Fredonians routed as the Mexican-Texan troops approached Nacogdoches.
Under a red-and-white flag with the words “Independence, Liberty, Justice,” Edwards vowed to hold up in Nacogdoches’ Old Stone Fort and fight to the death. But when the Mexican-Texan troops neared the town, Edwards and his supporters hightailed it across the Sabine River into Louisiana.
The Republic of Fredonia had lasted little more than one month.
New river town
Edwards returned to East Texas several years later, raising funds for the 1835-1836 Texas Revolution. From his Nacogdoches home he continued in the land business but was through creating republics.
In 1839 Edwards advertised the sale of lots in a new town he called Fredonia. The community sat on the Sabine River bank near present-day Longview. By 1843 Edwards was operating a ferry on the Sabine as Fredonia was being settled.
Fredonia served as a river port and a post office was established in 1849. Fredonia was home to several hundred residents with general stores, cotton warehouses and some fine residences.
But by 1870 Fredonia was little more than a memory. Bypassed by the railroad, Fredonia became little more than a ghost town.
Haden Edwards died on Aug. 14, 1849. The man who led the ill-fated Fredonian Rebellion is buried in Nacogdoches’ historic Oak Grove Cemetery.
Edwards County in Southwest Texas is named in honor of the East Texas empresario.