The Freeman Family
by Donald D.
During medieval times,
freedom, as we know it today, was for aristocrats only. It was not
for the lowly peasants, and since most of
the people in England were peasants the masses
had virtually no voice in their government. But
by the beginning of the thirteenth
century there was an undercurrent of discontent growing.
They were no
longer willing to be obedient, toiling serfs
as they had been in the past. They wanted better conditions and a greater share
of the good things in life. The movement started slow, but here and there there
were incidents where individuals questioned their plight. These individuals began demanding rights
and privileges that most had never dreamed of before.
Many could sense
that times were changing and that there was a possibility for freedom and liberty,
even for the lowly peasants.
Strange to say, this new
spirit was strengthened by a dreadful calamity. In the year 1348 a terrible
plague, known the Black Death, swept over Europe, causing the death of thousands
and thousands of people. The poor peasants suffered
most because they lived in such unsanitary conditions
and had the least care. In many areas whole villages of
peasants were wiped out.
When the scourge was over about half of the
workers on the large estates of the nobles in England had disappeared.
With just as many fields to be cared for and half as many peasants there was a
great scarcity of labor, and many of the lords
no longer had serfs enough to do their work.
Their crops were neglected, the herds and flocks strayed over the fields
with no one to look after them, and the nobles saw their
lands going to ruin. They made desperate
efforts to get workers, and many of them offered the peasants wages for
their work instead of demanding their customary feudal services. The peasants,
seeing that their labor was now of more value, demanded higher wages, and if
these demands were rebuffed they frequently
deserted their lords and hired themselves out to others who would pay
Then the lords began
making laws fixing the rate of wages and
ordering punishment for those who demanded more.
These laws stirred up bitter discontent among
the peasant population, and they
beginning of a long struggle which ended in several revolts of the peasants.
A leader of one of these
revolts was John Ball, a poor priest. He
went about the country preaching that all
were equal and that every man had rights, no
matter how humble he might be. His
view was that everyone was equal under God, and that they should not accept
being in bondage to the landowning aristocracy. John Ball thus accumulated a
large following, but the Archbishop of Canterbury had him thrown in prison for
preaching such rebellious nonsense.
Nevertheless, the unrest
grew, and 1381 is the year most historians mark as being the start of the
rebellion of the peasants. At one point about 60,000 peasants gathered in London
to protest their unequal treatment. The king – in order to placate the crowd –
promised that he would institute changes. Trusting the king’s promise, the
peasants dispersed and went back to their homes. King Richard, on the other
hand, gathered an army and hanged John Ball and the other leaders of the peasant
revolt. The revolt was put down, but the discontent did not go away. Over time
concessions were made to the serfs and peasants, and by 1450 AD serfdom had
passed away in England and Scotland, and by the end of the Middle Ages, in most
of Western Europe as well.
The serfs and peasants
were now “free men,” and although the use of surnames among the aristocracy had
been in general use for about four hundred years, it was not so with the
peasants. They suddenly found themselves free, and began to take a surname for
themselves. Many chose a name describing their vocation, such as Butcher,
Farmer, Hunter, etc, but many proclaimed,
“I am a free man,” and the name stuck as Freeman.
John W. Freeman, my great-grandfather, was born
December 11, 1831 in Culpeper County, Virginia. In 1842 he moved with his family
to Edgar County, Illinois. It was there, on August 12, 1849, that he married
Sarah Ann Houston Patrick. She was a widow with a young daughter (name unknown).
Sarah was born about 1820 in Kentucky, the daughter of Joseph Houston and
Delilah Weldon. John and Sarah had seven children:
Levi A. Freeman, b. 1850, Edgar Co., IL; d. 1922, Longton, Elk Co., KS
Thomas Freeman, b. 1852, Edgar Co., IL; d. 1876, Edgar Co., IL
William Freeman, b. 1856, Edgar Co., IL; d. 1880
Vachel Robert Freeman, b. 1858, Edgar Co., IL; d. 1934, Longton, Elk Co.,
Son Freeman, b. about 1860
Son Freeman, b. about 1861
Charles A. Freeman, b. August 17, 1863, Edgar Co., IL; d. December 29,
1936, Ottawa, Franklin Co., KS
Ann Houston died in 1867.
Sarah Ellen Foncannon & John W. Freeman
W. Freeman then married Sarah Ellen Foncannon about 1868. She was the
daughter of John Foncannon and Mariah Fisher, and was born February 20, 1848 in
and Sarah had four daughters:
Indiana May Freeman, b. May 4, 1868, Girard, Crawford Co., KS; d.
December 3, 1918, Eagle City, Blaine Co., OK
Minnie Olive Freeman, b. December 14, 1870, Girard, Crawford Co.,
KS; d. November 9, 1960, Severy, Greenwood Co., KS
Cora Sarah Freeman, b. June 7, 1872, Kansas; d. April19, 1957, Wichita,
Sedgwick Co., KS
Mamie V. Freeman, b. July 23, 1882, Kansas
Some time in early 1868 John
and Sarah moved to Fort Scott in Bourbon County, Kansas. It is believed that all
of Sarah’s stepchildren moved with them, including Levi, who would have been
about eighteen at the time. Sarah was herself only about nineteen. She had seven
stepchildren to care for – one only a year or so younger than herself – and her
first child was on the way. This must have been a tremendous responsibility and
burden for her.
The family did not stay in
Fort Scott long, however, for Indiana May Freeman was born in Girard, Crawford
County, Kansas on May 4, 1868, but they were not there for the 1870 census. At
this point we do not know where they were between the latter part of 1868 and
1873 when John W. Freeman moved his family, now with three daughters, to Longton
in Elk County. Cora Freeman was born in 1872, but we do not know her birthplace.
The 1880 census for Jasper
County, Missouri lists our Freeman family as living on East 8th
Street in Carthage. Mamie Freeman was born in 1882, presumably in Carthage, but
this is only a guess.
The following is an excerpt from
The Grass is
Always Greener, Down The Road Apiece, by Helen Erwin Campbell:
Grandma Erwin had a very quick temper and a very sharp
tongue. All of her grandchildren in turn must have learned to stay out of her
way most of the time, just as I did. Grandpa, in contrast, was soft-spoken with
a gentle, good-natured way about him. When he was sitting in his rocking chair
he had a lap that was always welcome to a grandchild in need of cuddling or
comforting. When Grandma started on one of her temper tirades, Grandpa just let
it roll over him and went about his business.
Often Grandma liked to talk of her own childhood.
She was born in 1870 in Girard, Kansas as Minnie Olive Freeman. The United
States Census of 1880 placed John R. Freeman, with his wife and three daughters,
in Carthage, Missouri.
My oldest brother Clifford remembered the stories
Grandma told about Jessie and Frank James. Grandma’s father was a friend to the
outlaw brothers and often offered them a safe haven when they were running from
the law. She recalled a time when she was a small girl when the James boys rode
in one evening and tied their horses to the wagon in the corral. The horses were
given hay to feed on, and a bale of hay was placed behind each mount, with the
saddles placed on the bales.
Grandma played around the bales and was told
sternly by her father, “Don’t play with the saddles!” She continued to play near
them, and her father finally told her, “Don’t even touch those saddles.”
Frank and Jessie had the saddles laid out just
right so that if they had to leave in a hurry they could throw the saddles on
their horses, pull up the belly cinch straps, and be gone in just a few seconds.
The James boys had supper with the Freeman family
that night, and Jessie told a story about riding down to the river, with the law
in hot pursuit. There was a high bank, about as high as a house. He jumped his
horse into the river and he and the horse swam to the other side. When he got
out of range of the law officer’s guns he claimed he turned and thumbed his nose
at the posse as they stood watching him on the high bank on the opposite side of
the river. Clifford later told the story to Dad.
His reaction was, “Aw…, I don’t think that ever
happened. She just made that up.”
Years later, however, Clifford discovered that
there was a tourist attraction on Highway 71 in Missouri that had a plaque to
mark a spot where, it claimed, Jessie James had jumped his horse into the river
while running from the law. Clifford had heard the story from Grandma thirty
Grandma was a tall, gaunt woman who never seemed to
have an extra ounce on her. She was also slightly crippled, one leg being bowed
inward from the ankle up. The story she told inquisitive grandchildren was that
when she was driving a buckboard when she was sixteen – and shortly after she
was married – a front wheel of the buckboard hit a pothole and the jolt threw
her off the seat. She fell in front of the wheel, which then ran over her ankle.
Her broken ankle was never properly set, thus her deformity. It didn’t seem to
be much of a handicap for her though. She was an excellent cook and always “set
a good table.” She usually had a large garden, which she tended herself. One of
my most vivid memories is of a dishpan full of fresh-picked strawberries from
her own patch, which ended up that evening as part of a delicious strawberry
And that bad leg never kept Grandma Erwin from
moving fast enough to swat a disobedient or rambunctious grandchild if the need
arose…and for the older ones that ever-present crutch proved to be a very
effective persuader. I vividly recall one incident in 1949 when I was sixteen.
Being a typical teenager, I had reluctantly accompanied my folks to Severy for a
Sunday dinner. Apparently I said something that Grandma thought was
inappropriate, and she swung that crutch around and rapped in on the ear. It
really smarted, and to the best of my knowledge I don’t believe I ever saw her
again before I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1950. Grandma Erwin was certainly
one of a kind, and if she isn’t always remembered with and fond memories she is
certainly remembered with awe.
A Double Marriage:
In Berryville, Carroll County, Arkansas, on December 16,
1886, India May Freeman married William “Cole” Erwin and Minnie Olive Freeman
married Michael R. “Mike” Erwin. There has never been any real proof that the
John W. Freeman family actually lived in Arkansas…even though there were a
number of Freemans there. In 1878 there was a J. W. Freeman in Carroll County,
Arkansas who paid a poll tax of $2.78, but there is no proof that this was our
J. W. Freeman. So…the mystery is…how did the Erwin brothers meet and find time
to court the Freeman sisters? A recent clue, contributed by Jimmy Erwin who
lived with Grandpa Mike and Grandma Minnie as a child, indicates that the
Freeman family may have lived just across the road from the Erwins in Carroll
County. This would certainly explain how the Erwin boys had the opportunity to
spark the Freeman girls. India was eighteen, but Minnie was only sixteen when
John W. Freeman died November
7, 1919 in Canton, Blaine County, Oklahoma. Sarah Ellen Foncannon Freeman died
March 24, 1929, in Eagle City, Blaine County, Oklahoma. Both are buried in the
Munice Cemetery in Dewey County, Oklahoma, about twelve miles west of Canton.
married Sarah J. Skidmore in 1871. He and his family
lived on a farm southwest of Longton, Kansas in Elk County where they raised
seven children. Levi was president of Longton State Bank for seventeen years,
and owned, or was a partner in, several other local business ventures. He
also served two terms as county commissioner for Elk County. He and Sarah were
mentioned often in the Longton Times.
March 22, 1922 and Sarah died June 16, 1920. They are both buried in the
Levi & Sarah
Vachel R. Freeman
married Alice A. Conover of Fort Scott, Kansas. She was born in 1859 and
passed away in 1939 in Longton.
They had two children:
Lena A. Freeman and
George Levi Freeman.
Vachel Freeman was a
successful farmer and stockman. He served on the Longton Council for twenty
years, and was a member of the Masonic Lodge.
Vachel "Vache" Freeman died in 1934
and Alice died in 1939. Both are buried in the Longton Cemetery in Elk County,
Charles A. Freeman
married Mary M. McElhinny of Fredonia, Kansas in 1901. After they were married
they lived on a farm southwest of Longton. In 1903 they moved to Ottawa, in
Franklin County, Kansas, where they lived the rest of their lives. They had no
children, and both are buried in Fredonia, Wilson County, Kansas.
William and Robert Freeman remained in Edgar County, Illinois.
The three Freeman
brothers were very active
in the Elk County area. They were mentioned often in the Longton News:
Jan 4, 1889: L A Freeman, D W
Jackson and J Malone have formed a partnership and organized a
company and call themselves “The Longton Real Estate and Collecting
Agency.” They occupy the room 1st door south of the post
office for an office.
Jan 25, 1889: Mr L A Freeman
shipped a car load of fat cattle on Sunday.
Feb 15, 1889:
Mr and Mrs Geo. Toms were in
the Valley this week, the guest of L A Freeman.
April 2, 1889:
Whereas, I, L A Freeman, have
purchased the stock of merchandise of C W Canoose together with his
book accounts, all parties owing accounts on said book are notified
to call and settle same as once.
L A FREEMAN
February 3, 1899: V.R. Freeman is busy hauling the bridge material
for the bridge across the river river at Morris’ Ford.
July 21, 1899: Mr. And Mrs. L. A. Freeman returned home from
Missouri, where they have been visiting their daughter, Mrs. S. S. Gordon.
July 22, 1899: Ora Freeman has been quite sick for the past few
days with tonsillitis and is no better at this writing.
September 8, 1899: V.R. Freeman entertained some of his friends
last Tuesday evening. A pleasant time was reported.
September 21, 1900: Mrs. L.A. Freeman and sons , Ora and Forest,
started for Indiana last Monday, where they will visit with relatives and
December 21, 1900: L.A. and V.R. Freeman left Tuesday morning for
Oklahoma to select homes.
March 8, 1900: Bert and Ora Freeman and S.S. Gordon started to
June 23, 1901: O. A. and B. A. Freeman returned from Woodward
County, Oklahoma Tuesday night.
February 7, 1902: Mrs. Charley Freeman had the misfortune to break
one of her ankles and Charley brought her home from the Indian Territory the
first of this week.
L. A. Freeman and wife; V. R. Freeman and wife, and George Freeman
attended a birthday celebration for Mrs. A.J. Toms who was 76.
A letter from Ora Freeman to his father, L. A. Freeman, says that
he and his brother Bert have deeded their claims and that each of them has been
sold. The boys expect to be in Longton in a few days.
In June 2001 I visited the
Munice Cemetery in Dewey County, Oklahoma. It is located about fifteen miles
west of Canton – which is in Blaine County – on State Highway 51. It is “out in
the middle of nowhere,” and one has to wonder if there might have been a town of
Munice at one time, or at least a church by that name. The cemetery was well
kept though, and there had been recent interments.
I stopped at Munice Cemetery
in my search for Erwins, and although I did find several, I was surprised at how
many several members of the Freeman family that were there also. They were:
John W. Freeman; December 31, 1831-November 7, 1919
Sarah E. Foncannon Freeman (wife of John W. Freeman); 1846-1926
India May Freeman Erwin (wife of William C. Erwin); May 4,
1869-December 3, 1918
John Clarence Freeman; 1930-1930
Earl Dean Freeman; 1936-1938
Allen Ray Freeman; June 4, 1938 (no other date)
Ricky Lynn Freeman; September 27, 1957-June 10, 1959
Tommie Lee Freeman; October 27, 1934-February 23, 1990
F.R. (Fuzzy) Freeman (Husband); June 26, 1903- August 12, 1973
Hermie G. Freeman (Wife); May 15, 1907-January 12, 1990
Janice Irene Freeman; May 3, 1961-December 29, 1962
Bernard Young Freeman; T/Sgt. U.S. Air Force, June 10,
1932-October 4, 1983
Jessie Freeman Carroll; 1928-1964
Darla Jean Freeman Manning; October 25, 1958-April 20, 1982
It seems likely that the
Freemans still living in the area are descendants of John and Sarah Freeman.
R. Freeman home near Longton, Elk County, Kansas, c. 1910 - Vachel is on the mule.
family gathering at the Levi A. Freeman farm in 1886.