Did you know we came that close to being called Roanoke County? It’s true. The 1873 state Legislature — mostly composed of carpetbaggers and pro-Unionists — was all set to name the newly proposed East Texas county “Roanoke.”
But thanks to state Rep. Bluford Washington Brown, the county wound up being called Gregg — named after a fellow Confederate officer.
First, however, a little background on the man who gave us our name. Born Jan. 31, 1831, in Alabama, Bluford Brown’s family moved to East Texas in 1850, settling in the Merrill’s Lake area now in Longview.
Brown attended Maplesville Academy back in his home state, married an Alabama girl, Nancy Cox, and started farming there.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Brown joined the Confederate army as a lieutenant. Following a Rebel victory at Manassas (or Bull Run, as the Yankees called it), he was promoted to captain.
He continued to see action, serving in the Richmond, Virginia, area at war’s end. Returning to his Alabama farm, he found that little remained of value.
He and his family headed for Texas in 1866, settling in the Summerfield community just north of what is now Longview. The area was then a part of Upshur County. Brown prospered, and in 1873, he decided to seek election to the Texas Legislature. He won.
At the time, folks in Summerfield and the new village of Longview were seeking creation of a new county. After all, Gilmer was a long way for residents to travel to conduct legal business. The roads were bad, and inclement weather made it next to impossible to complete the trip.
In the 13th Texas Legislature — still dominated by Reconstruction pro-unionists, House Bill No. 23 was introduced “to create and provide for the organization of the County of Roanoke.” Exactly where they came up with Roanoke is a matter of conjecture. But Brown had a plan.
It turns out Brown had served under Confederate Brig. Gen. John Gregg, who had been killed in 1861 in Virginia. Gregg was a fellow Alabaman who, like Brown, had moved to East Texas before the war. The new county should be called Gregg, Brown said.
The choice of Gregg proved popular. Roanoke was stricken and the name of Gregg substituted in the original bill, upon the request of Brown.
On April 12, 1873, the Legislature passed the bill creating the county from portions of Upshur and Rusk counties.
Gregg County originally was to consist of 420 square miles, including a sizable portion of western Harrison County.
But officials there opposed losing any acreage to Gregg County, and Harrison’s political clout carried the day (As a result, Gregg today covers only 282 square miles and is the state’s seventh-smallest county).
Anyway, Gov. Edmund J. Davis objected to the act creating a smaller Gregg County, noting it would be “in area largely less than the Constitutional limit.”
But nobody much cared if the unpopular Davis — a former Union general — signed it or not, since it would become law even without his signature.
In June 1873, an election was held, and Longview bested Await, 524 votes to 125, as the new county seat.
Actually, Gregg/Roanoke fared better than some other counties Texas’ Reconstruction government tried to create after the Civil War.
Among the counties created by the unpopular Davis carpetbag administration were Latimer, Richland, Webster, Buchel, Dawson, Encinal, Foley and Wegeforth. Some of them had been named for pro-Union sympathizers. But the counties were never organized or simply declared defunct by later Democratic legislatures.
Bluford Brown served three terms in the Legislature. Active in Masonry, he was a delegate to the Democratic state conventions of 1873, 1878 and 1880, and served as lay minister for the Methodist church in Longview.
He died Feb. 5, 1897, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.