Biography - John Freeman

JOHN FREEMAN, capitalist, residing in Moweaqua Township, is one of Shelby County's best known and most prominent citizens, who has long been concerned in its financial interests, has been a potent agent in its material advancement, has had a hand in the management of its public affairs, and is closely identified with its social and political life. He is a descendant of fine old New England and Revolutionary stock, and his ancestors were among the early settlers of Massachusetts, his native State. Edmund Freeman, of English birth, being the first of the family to come to America, the "Abigail," bringing him hither on her second trip across the Atlantic in 1635. He first located at Sangus, Mass., but subsequently went to the town of Sandwich, Barnstable County, where he secured a large tract of land, including Sagamore Hill, the greater portion of the land being still owned by his descendants.

Our subject was born on Purchase Street, Boston, Mass., January 11, 1831. His father, Benjamin Freeman, was born in that city December 31, 1803, and was a son of Watson Freeman, who was also a native of Boston. The grandfather of our subject was fourteen years old when the Revolutionary War broke out. Patriotic blood ran in his veins, and notwithstanding his youth, two years later he enlisted April 7, 1777, in the Fourth Continental Regiment. He was present at Burgoyne's defeat in 1778, and was afterward honorably discharged from the army. But the youthful patriot was still anxious to help secure the freedom of his country, and he soon entered the naval service as a privateer. In 1782 he was wounded in a battle at sea, and with ship and crew was captured by the British. He was taken to the hospital at Portsmouth, England, and later discharged from there.

He returned to his native country, and in 1800 engaged in the mercantile business with another gentleman under the firm name of Freeman & Baty, and subsequently with Mr. Cushing, as Freeman as Cushing. They were heavy importers of china, crockery ware, etc., and the grandfather of our subject continued in the business a number of years until his retirement with a handsome competency. He died at Sandwich April 10, 1813. The maiden name of his second wife, grandmother of our subject, was Experience Freeman, and she was also a native of Boston.

Benjamin Freeman was reared and educated in the city of his birth. He commenced life on his own account as a sailor, but he did not long pursue that vocation, as he preferred following in the footsteps of his father as a merchant. He continued in business in Boston until 1839, when he came to Illinois and invested in several thousand acres of land, destined some day, as he shrewdly foresaw, to be very valuable. In 1841 he removed his family to this State, the journey being performed by steamer from Fall River to New York, thence by canal and rail through Philadelphia to Pittsburg, from there by the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to St. Louis, and thence overland to their destination in Hillsboro, Montgomery County. Mr. Freeman did not live to enjoy his new home very long, as in July of the same year his life was brought to an untimely end by his death while yet in his prime, and the county was deprived of the services of one of its most able pioneers, who, if he had lived, would undoubtedly have done much to develop its resources and promote its growth. His wife bore the maiden name of Sallie Shaw Shurtleff. She was likewise a native of Boston, Mass., a descendant of some of the old families of that city, and a daughter of Dr. Benjamin and Sallie (Shaw) Shurtleff. She was married a second time to Henry R. Child, who died in 1848. She returned to Boston in 1849, and died in that city in 1876. She had ten children by her first marriage, and one by the second.

John Freeman was ten years old when he came to Illinois with his parents. He was given good educational advantages, and was a student at Shurtleff College in Alton when the discovery of gold in California created such profound excitement in all parts of the world, and in 1849 he threw aside his books and bade farewell to college life to join the seekers after the precious metal on the Pacific coast. He, with others, made the entire journey across the plains and mountains with ox-teams, a long and weary way over what was then known as "Great American Desert," and after they left the Missouri River they saw no white settlements, except that of the Mormons, until they arrived in California, while buffalo, deer, antelopes and other wild animals were encountered in large numbers. Arriving at Weaverville, September 17, after many months' travel, our subject at once took a job at scoring logs receiving $11 a day, and in that way he earned money to buy provisions to take to the mountains, where cornmeal and bacon, the chief articles of food, were a dollar a pound each. He engaged in mining in Maraposa County until December, 1851, and then started for the East with his gains, and traveling by the way of the Isthmus and Havana, joined his family at Boston. His health had suffered from the privations and hardships that he had had to endure in the rough frontier life of the two preceding years, and he did not immediately engage in any active business, but traveled while recuperating, and during the time of the Crimean War visited Crimea. He was away from home about nine months, and then returned to Boston, where he remained until 1857. In that year he came back to Shelby County, intending to dispose of his landed interests here, but he liked the country so well that he decided to improve his real estate, and built, and has ever since had a home here, though making his residence here only a portion of the time. For three years he lived at Shelbyville, and in 1879 went to Decatur, where he became interested in the mercantile and hotel business, and for a time managed the new "Deming." He still retains his interest in the mercantile business there, and is connected with a hotel elsewhere.

Mr. Freeman was married in 1859 to Miss Ellen A., daughter of A. F. and Louisa (Wheadon) Wilson, and a native of Jacksonville, Ill. Their home is attractive in its appointments and surroundings, and its pleasing comforts as presided over by the gracious, considerate hostess and the kindly, courteous host are held in grateful remembrance by those who have enjoyed them, whether as a "stranger within the gates" or as friends, of whom our subject and his amiable wife have many. Four children have been born to them, two of whom are now living; Alice F., wife of Oscar F. Spaulding, and John B.

Not only has Mr. Freeman helped to advance the financial standing of this county by his judicious investments and by his business qualifications, but he has been of invaluable service as a civic official. He has represented Moweaqua Township on the County Board of Supervisors several terms, and while holding that important office always looked closely after the interests of the public, and his intelligent and generous advocacy of various enterprises for the benefit of the community at large has often contributed to their success. He is an ardent Republican in his political views, and his party has in him an earnest champion of its policy. In his social relations he is connected with the Masonic fraternity and also with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He has been a member of the former since 1859, when he joined the Dewitt Clinton Lodge at Sandwich, Mass. He identified himself with the Odd Fellows by joining the Winnissimete Lodge at Chelsea, Mass., and he is a member of the Shelbyville Lodge, K. of H.

Extracted 17 Jun 2019 by Norma Hass from 1891 Portrait and Biographical Record of Shelby and Moultrie Counties Illinois, pages 638-639.

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