by Michael Brewster
You might think that The Last Town in the Confederacy would be in Tennessee or Missouri or some dusty forgotten western corner of Texas, and you’d be… Wrong. Town Line, New York, a little hamlet outside of Buffalo in Erie County has the dubious distinction of rejoining the Union after an invitation from Harry S. Truman—yes, you read that right— in 1945. According to the October 7, 1945 Buffalo Courier Express, President Truman wrote a playfully worded letter to the residents of Town Line suggesting that they vote to rejoin the Union.
It was in 1861 when Town Line (so named because the hamlet straddles the boundary between the Towns of Lancaster and Alden) residents voted to secede from the Union. Sources vary on the vote being 85-40 or 80-45, but either way, the majority decided to join with the Confederacy. There are no surviving records of why this vote was taken, and reading newspaper accounts from 1933 and 1937 (the oldest known mentions of the vote) don’t clarify it. So, strangely enough, a hamlet in Western New York considered itself a part of the Confederate States. Legally, in New York, hamlets are not municipalities, they are considered “unincorporated communities” and so this vote carried no weight. Indeed, neither the Union nor the Confederacy formally recognized Town Line’s vote.
So, did the town fortify against its neighbors? Buffalo, long known as the City of Good Neighbors, was not besieged by the rebel Town Liners. Legend has it that several members of the German-American community fled to Canada; five residents crossed the Mason–Dixon line to fight with the Confederates in their Army of Northern Virginia, and twenty residents fought for the Union Army. The Buffalo Courier Express reports “In 1864 the county’s quota of men was short by 292. The draft which followed asked five men from Alden and eight from Lancaster. Town Line to show its loyalty, sent seven of the expected thirteen.”
With the patriotic emotions after World War II running high, some Town Liners wrote to President Truman about their “predicament.” Truman’s response? “Why don’t you run down the fattest calf in Erie County, barbecue it and serve it with fixin’s in the old blacksmith shop where the ruckus started? Who can tell? The dissidents might decide to resume citizenship.” The Town Liners held a vote, supervised by movie stars Cesar Romero and Martha Stewart, and after 84 years, they rejoined the Union.
If you were to drive down Broadway Avenue (Rt. 20) in Lancaster, you’d probably have no inkling of any of this. The last remnants of this historical oddity rested with the Town Line Volunteer Fire Department, which once sported a patch saying “Last of the Rebels 1865-1946”. They voted to drop this and the Confederate flag in September 2011, and now their patch sports the flags of the United States and New York State.
Sources & Additional Reading
NPR did a story about the 150th “Celebration” of the Town Line’s secession
Buffalo History Gazette has transcribed the original newspaper stories with a bunch of photos.