The Vagabond- How did Etowah County get named? And why its first name HAD to be changed


Why did our early fathers decided to create a new county from several others? Why was the area later name Etowah, and what most important thing affected them to call it by that name? 

The Vagabond doubts one can easily find the answer under Internet sear-ches, as it took several years to come up with the answers. The Vagabond is amazed that our early fathers did not write much about all this matter.

What started the process of creating a new county from several adjoining counties?

From some of the letters and notes of the early se-ttlers and historians, the little village of Gadsden was growing very fast and competing with other villages in Cherokee County. Gadsden was located in the far southwest corner of Cherokee. This made it hard for both the county and the city. It has been said that Centre had real concerns that the county seat would change to Gadsden and they did not want that to happen. Cherokee County actually encouraged for a new county to be created.

Alabama’s first post-Civil War legislature convened in Montgomery in November of 1866. On Dec. 7, Augustin L. Woodliff, a Gadsden citizen and senator from Cherokee County, delivered a petition signed by residents of Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, DeKalb, St. Clair, and Marshall counties.

The petition called for the formation of a new county. Its center would be at or near Gadsden, which then was in Cherokee County. When voting time came, the bill passed the Senate 27 to 3, and the House 69 to 13.

Speaker of the House Thomas B. Cooper suggested that Baine be the name of the new county in honor of David W. Baine, a Confederate hero and a former resident of Centre in neighboring Cherokee County. 

David William Baine was born in Ohio on Aug. 29, 1829. He graduated from Allegheny College and was a teacher and lawyer in Lowndes County. He was considered “slight and slender.” 

Baine was a lieutenant colonel in the 14th Alabama Infantry Regiment at its organization in August of 1861, to rank from July 19. He was killed in action at Frayser’s Farm in Virginia. Baine is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va. He was married to Mary J. Hogue in 1839 in Cherokee County. The couple had at least three children.

With a population of over 6,500 people, Baine County covered an area of 523 square miles. There was a choice between Gadsden and Attalla for the county seat. Attalla offered to change its name to Bainesville in an effort to lure the center of the county government but that effort failed as Gadsden was chosen as the county seat in a special election held on March 4, 1867. Thomas J. Burgess was elected as the first sheriff and the county’s first probate judge was L.E. Hamlin.

After the Civil War in the fall of 1867, a military government was imposed on Alabama. This situation would take a tragic turn for the young Baine County, as poverty associated with Reconstruction made things hard for people living in the area.

The new sheriff was removed from office upon refusing to sign an amnesty oath (he later serve as sheriff in 1875). Samuel Dillard was chosen to replace Burgess as sheriff. 

Back in January of 1868, the people of Gadsden were greatly disturbed over the threat to abolish Baine County, of which Gadsden was the county seat. It was said that the only way to save Baine County was to defeat the proposed new state constitution and thereby make the ordinances of the constitution convention null and void. If that were done, Baine would still be a county for the very reason that the legislature could not abolish it.

The proposed constitution required every new county to contain an area of 600 square miles, whereas Baine had only had 523. In area today, it is the smallest county in the state. 

“Everyone knows that the surrounding counties would never consent to give us that much more of their territory,” one paper reported. “If Baine is abolished, St. Clair, DeKalb, Blount, Cherokee and Calhoun County will never give us more than they have already done. We will have no membership in the legislature at Montgomery to urge our claims, as it requires two-thirds of that body to vote a new county.

“If Baine is abolished by the ratification of the proposed constitution, interests will suffer and the whole county will be embroiled in litigation arising from business transacted here in the last six months. Every foot of land in Baine will suffer in value if Baine is abolished. Stay at home and don’t vote at all.”

The reason for that advice was the fact that a two-thirds majority of all the votes cast was required for ratification. That meant that 85,000 votes would have to be cast for the constitution in order to make it binding.

The carpetbaggers, sca-lawags and the blacks at that time wanted to get rid of Baine because it was named in honor of a brilliant young lawyer who came to Cherokee County from the north to practice law. He later moved to Lowndes County, where he became prominent. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the Confederate Army and soon rose to the rank of colonel.

The fact that Baine became a southerner and served in the Confederate Army was a great offense in the eyes of those who came here to seize the state government for loot, and they had no notion of honoring Col. Baine.

On Dec. 1, 1868, however, the constitution was defeated, and the carpetbag legislature decided to just change the name of the county. The delegates had regarded Baine as a Northern traitor.

Baine County’s representative to the convention, Dr. W.T. Ewing, fought gallantly “to save the young county.”  But Baine County lasted for one short year. The carpetbagger-controlled Constitutional Convention voted 41 to 34 to abolish Baine County and rename it to Etowah, an Indian name. The state legislature restored the previous boundary lines.

County court was to be held at the Baptist church in Gadsden until a permanent site could he determined in an election scheduled for the following March.

“Etowah” is a derivative from the Cherokee Indian word “Itawa,” which some claims that it means strong or beautiful tree, but that is debatable among historians. More likely it was originally Creek or Muscogee. When DeSoto came through, he stopped at a village named Itaba, which later became Itawa.

The Hightown (Etowah) Path was a long trail running from the Carolinas all the way to today’s Memphis, Tenn. This trail went through the Cherokee village of Etowah, later Hightown/Hightower Village. 

The county fathers and all the early settlers of this area and surrounding counties all came down the Hightown Path knowing that it was also called the Etowah Path. Every one of the early fathers of Etowah and Gadsden have talked about this path and thus named the county for the path and the village that once stood near Rome, Ga.

Authority then was given to the governor to appoint all county officers. Probate Judge James M. Moragne was appointed. A final vote to choose the county seat would find the city of Gadsden selected by a majority of over 800 votes.

Col. R.B. Kyle and William P. Lay offered to pay the cost of building a new courthouse for the county. The location for the courthouse had to be in the original survey of Gadsden, which originally was located in Cherokee County. Gadsden became an incorporated town in 1867 with Col. Kyle as its first mayor. It might have attained its growth and importance as a part of Cherokee County, but in 1868 the founder and town builders of the little village did not think that it would survive the loss of Baine County.

Note: The Vagabond recently found the letter sent to Baines wife. It reads:

Mrs. D.W. Baine, Hayneville, Ala., Camp 14th Ala. Regt., July 12, 1862


You have already learned of the fall of your noble husband in the battle of Frazirs Farm, but, so far as I am aware, you have not been informed of the particulars of his participation in that and preceeding (sic) engagements or of his burial in Richmond. In the hard fought battle of Gaines Hill (sic), he was so conspicuous for coolness, bravery and the skill with which he managed his men, that I deem it becoming that some record should go to his family from those who were associated with his command. On Thursday afternoon we were nearby and heard the din and shouts of the opening engagement, and it was with real pleasure that Col. Baine announced to his regiment, from official information, that Old Stonewall was driving the enemy before him. 

That night, Gen. Pryor’s brigade crossed over the Chickahominy [River] and took position near the lines of the enemy. At daybreak, there was a short but spirited engagement in which about twenty of the regiment fell killed and wounded. The enemy fell back to Gaines Hill, where he was found, in large force, in a position so strong that the Federal general considered it impregnable against any force we could bring against it. 

On a hillside extending far to the right and left and gradually ascending from a deep, wide ditch, which drained a sort of ravine, he had three rows of breastworks, one behind the other, at such distances, that the fire from those in rear passed over those in front. 

In this ditch, behind the breastworks and at a battery of twelve guns. Still in the rear, the Federal troops were numbered by tens of thousands; yet so successfully were they screened by the breastworks and branches of trees placed on them that not a man was to be seen. 

The brigade was led to the brow of the opposite hill, and down they rushed in a charge. The fire of the enemy was terrific – men were falling on every side – the brigade halted, commenced firing and wavering started to fall back. Here Col. Baines’ control of himself and his men was signally illustrated. He halted his men and restored order under a murderous fire, while every other regiment of the brigade had, for the time, retired from the field. Other brigades advanced with as little success as our own. 

At length, what remained of our brigade, with fragments of others, came up with one accord promptly into line and rushed fearlessly and irresistably (sic) over the ditch, up the hill through the breastworks, driving the enemy everywhere before them. On they rushed and although the twelve-gun battery was raking them with grape and canister, there was no halting until it was captured and the enemy driven from the field. 

It is with pleasure that I announce to you that Col. Baine was one of the very first to reach this battery, which continued to mow down our men until they ran up to the guns themselves. From the breastworks to this battery, around and in rear of it, the ground was strewn with enemy dead. 

Col. Baine now came back to the hospital near the field, where I was engaged with the wounded. He was in fine humor and spoke in the highest terms of the conduct of his men; and said that, although they had not done all that he would have had them do, they had far surpassed his expectations. He was proud, and justly so too, of the conduct of his command. 

[The] next day, our whole division crossed the Chickahominy, marched down [the] James River and bivouacked (sic) for the night, preparatory to the battle of Frazirs Farm. The brigade was drawn up in line of battle on the following afternoon awaiting the enemy.

Riding up, I found Col. Baine resting in the shade, apparently asleep. A shell whizzed (sic) by and burst. In a moment the whole command was in motion for the scene of conflict. This was the last I saw of him until after his noble spirit had been called from the earth. 

At the field, he was directed to charge a battery. At his order, the men sprang forward and soon their much-loved and deeply lamented commander fell almost on the enemy’s guns. A Minnie ball entered just above the right groin and cut the large artery (the external iliac (sic iliac)), which, an inch below passes into the thigh. 

“ am wounded. Major Wood, take command of the regiment” were his last words. His orderly stood by him until he ceased to breathe. His loss to us is irreparable. His broad, cultivated mind, his genial mannor (sic) and high social qualities had endeared him to some of us as few if any have ever been before. His administrative talent and fitness to command had already elicited the prediction that he would soon wear the wreaths of a Brigadier General. 

He was my friend. I wept over his dead body and his loss is like that of a brother. Capt. Henshaw removed his body to Richmond, expecting to send it home to you. He could not get transportation and he was buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond. In your deep sorrow, Madam, you have our warmest sympathy.


J.R. Gaston

Surg., 14th Ala. Regt.

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