The Freeman Family in America

Records show the original Edmund Freeman family (Edward's ancestors) migrated to America on board the sailing ship "Abigail", sailing from England to Boston, MA in 1635.

His son, John Freeman was 8 years old when he arrived with his parents, brothers and sisters in America just 14 years after the Pilgrims had arrived. The family must have been pretty well off because among the things Edmund brought over with the family were 20 metal chest protectors whose purpose was to ward off Indian arrows if the need arised.

With the lure of vast new "free land" available in the new colony, so many Englishmen were migrating to the New World at this time that the English government tried to stop them by various laws. The settlers and Indians were still fighting brutal massacres on both sides until the Indian Chief Metacom (King Philip) was captured and executed in 1676. These metal chest protectors must have come in very handy during these trying years. Paintings of that era show the men wearing similar chest protectors. (Maybe he was a merchant?)

The family settled in Massachusetts where Edmund, helped establish the town of Sandwich, MA situated at the beginning of Cape Cod. Later his son John helped establish Sudbury. Over the years, decendents of the original family slowly migrated from Massachusetts to Vermont, Connecticut and New York state territories. There were 21 Freeman families scattered around Vermont when the 1st U.S.Census was taken in 1790.

There is a sign on Freeman Road in Orchard Park, NY commemorating Elisha Freeman who came to the East Hamburg area (now Orchard Park) from Easton, NY when he was only 17 years old, way back in 1816, when this area was still a forest wilderness. His father Stephan Freeman moved in around 1822 with his wife. Stephan had fought as a private in the 13th Regiment of the Albany Co. Militia against General Burgoyne's army in the battle of Saratoga. He saw General Fraser fall from his horse, mortally wounded in the battle.

His son, Elisha married Abigail Smith in 1821 and became a successful farmer in Orchard Park. His farm remained in the Freeman family until about 1920. The original home (although modified over the years) still remains a beautiful sight to behold near Freeman's Pond.

This was an historic time around Western New York - the War of 1812 was being fought, many battles around the Niagara River took place and the village of Buffalo was burned to the ground. There must have been many refugees from Buffalo hiding in this area during these trying times.

Edward Freeman - The "Paddler's" story.

My Great grandfather Edward was born in Vermont around 1802.

Edward Freeman (b.1802) - “Paddler” married Melvina Abbott Carlyle(b.1840) , a widow.

They had 2 children - Lillie Mae and John

Lillie May (1867) married William Thomas Hamilton in 1890

(They had 12 children, one was stillborn & not named)

William, Lillian, Lawrence, Irene, Charles, Francis, Elizabeth, Robert, Mabel, Marcella, Albert

The Freeman family had lived in America about 7 generations (167 years) by the time Edward Freeman, (Lillie Mae’s father) was born in Vermont around 1802. The country was very young, only 11 years earlier Vermont had become the 14th state in the Union. (Thomas Jefferson was President of our country at the time).

(Other Freeman families immigrated from England to the southern colonies around 1735 and firmly established the Freeman name throughout the southern part of the country. There is no indication of these families coming into contact with the New England Freemans until they fought each other in the Civil War.)

Grandma Lillie Mae said her father "Edward" was a captain of a ship that sailed the Great Lakes. (His father may have fought in the Battle of Saratoga, one of the most crucial battles of the Revolutionary War. The battle was fought on a William Freeman's farm who was a Loyalist and had moved to Canada. (Most of the Freeman family stayed in America and fought on the side of the American Revolutionaries.)

Here is a little anecdote about William (John?)Freeman's move from his farm to his new home in Canada.

My Name is Richard C. Freeman, I am a descendant of William Freeman (of the battle on Freeman's Farm during the revolutionary war). I've heard some stories from my grandmother and father about the struggle of the loyalists in the early years, and have read even more.

William Freeman had remained loyal to King George when the Revolutionary war broke out. He abandoned his farm (where the famous battle took place) and migrated with his family to Canada. He received a land grant from King George.

The Freeman land grant of 200 acres was originally for an area around Chaffe's Locks. I had been at a union retreat in this area and actually met a women that knew of some of the descendants linage in the area, any way this land was traded for flatter land I think in the Yarker Ontario area. The farm house and land stayed in the Freeman family until 1984 when it was sold. That was sad for us. My grandmother has passed down the Royal seal granting them the land from King George.

Those were real tough times for the Freeman's - they were real pioneers. There were probably many loyalist families who migrated to Canada at this time. I've heard some story's from my grandmother and father about the struggle of the loyalists in the early years. My Grandparents told of the hard years following the war. Great pneumonia out breaks that killed thousands, land that needed years to cleared to produce crops, and how the British helped by supplying food from Fort Henry in Kingston.

My father Carl Freeman passed away on the 12 th of November he was a good man. He was the first of our family to return to the U.S. He was in the Canadian Air Force, and worked on the DEW line radar systems. He immigrated to Illinois, in the mid 1960s to teach radar for G. E. and stayed for some 20 years. My brother Tim and three half brothers and sisters remained and are the first U.S. Citizens, since the Revolutionary War.

Here is another article about the Saratoga battles on Freeman's farm in a local Orchard Park, NY newspaper, "The Citizen" Feb.16, 2002.

"John Freeman Farm Battles" "The farm was leased by "tory" John Freeman from General Philip Schuyler, a major land-holder in that area. Freeman's farm was well documented in the history of those battles. During the first battle on Sept.19, 1777 the log house on John Freeman's farm was used by British General Burgoyne as his headquarters. "Tory" John Freeman fought for the British. The British suffered heavy casulties in the first battle and John Freeman's log house was burned down to the ground. The British were soundly defeated in the 2nd battle, Oct. 7, 1777 when thousands of American militia men showed up to help Benedict Arnold. John Freeman and his family all retreated to Canada with the British. The following year John and most of his family died in a smallpox epidemic".

(There was also a Stephan (Elisha) Freeman who fought against the British in the Saratoga battle. He was a private in the 13th Regiment of Albany Co. Militia He lived in Washington County, NY. at the time. In 1816 he moved to and established a farm in East Hamburg NY now Orchard Park. The farm eventually grew to 208 acres and remained in the family into the 1920's.)

Here is also another story of the Freeman's Farm Battles

Getting back to Edward - there are not many records about Edward, except the City Directory and and my grandmother, Lillie Mae's recollections. From these, plus the rich historical era that he lived in, we can speculate about his life.

Back in 1857, when he was living on Forest Avenue near Dewitt, a Buffalo City Directory interviewer asked Edward Freeman, what his occupation was? “I am a paddler”, he answered. That is about all the written information we have on him so far. When I saw this in the City Directory I thought to myself what the heck is a "paddler".

His daughter, Grandma Lillie Mae (Freeman) Hamilton also passed on some additional information about her father. From what my Grandmother told me about her father working on the Lakes and the information in the City Directory, I figure Edward was working on the sidewheeler "paddle" steam ships that were prevalent in the mid 19th century, before the propeller ships took over.

She also remembered living on a canal barge with her mother, (Melvina Abbott), father and brother John when she was very young. Great grandfather Freeman died a few years after the end of the “Great Rebellion” (Civil War) in 1872. He was 70 years old, Lillie Mae was only 5 years old at the time. Melvina was 32 years old, a widow again, with two young children - she also had a daughter (Hanna) from her previous marriage. I don't know if Hanna lived on the barge but she did marry a man whose last name was George and they later owned a hotel in Buffalo. (If Great grandmother Melvina owned the canal barge, she probably sold it and lived off the proceeds). She also died ten years later in 1882.

Edward's Earlier Years

Great Grandfather Edward grew up in the beautiful mountains of Vermont. The country was spectacular but their was not much work so when he heard about a big construction job going right across central New York State he decided to go down and see what was doing.
The construction project was New York Governor Dewitt Clinton’s, Erie Canal. President Thomas Jefferson had said that a project of this enormity wouldn’t be technically feasible for another 100 years, but Clinton and his backers were doing it anyway.

The construction had started at Rome, NY in July 1817 when Edward was only 15 year old. By the time he went down there it may have been under construction for about three or four years. Diggers were badly needed and people from all over the surrounding states came to dig the canal - thats when they went down to New York City and recruited the newly arrived Irish immigrants.

Being a husky young man in his prime, Edward got a job and soon found himself digging the canal and living with the other workers in the shanty towns that followed the diggers. It was a tough life but the pay was good, 80 cents per day and the “jigger boss” (the boy who doled out jiggers of whiskey) came around 16 times a day with jiggers of whiskey for the canal workers.
Them little jiggers sure made time pass fast and you slept real good at night. ( I wonder if the Chinese workers who built the Great Wall of China had a “jigger boss".)

Edward met a lot of fine people during these years. They were mostly Irish immigrants and people from the surrounding country who needed the work. They had some really good times in their off hours and Edward learned how to “Box” and do the “Irish Jig”.
By 1825 the canal was pretty well complete, Edward and the rest of the workers found themselves in Buffalo at the western terminus of the canal looking for a place to live and work. Buffalo was a bustling frontier town now. It had been rebuilt after the British burned it in December 1813. It was now located on the western frontier of our country at the time.
With the completion of the canal, Buffalo became the gateway to the west for thousands of westward bound pioneers and settlers.

Many of the Irish canal construction workers eventually settled the area that became Buffalo’s First Ward. Others continued their migration westward where their decedents helped build the great transAmerican railroads later in the century. Edward liked the idea of sailing the schooners on the lakes and decided to follow that life. The next thirty two historic years he spent sailing the lakes.
Edward got a job as a sailor on a schooner and soon was sailing up and down the lake, taking passengers westward and bringing lumber, furs, other cargo, back to Buffalo.
(The pioneer/farmers that he had brought west were soon growing enough surplus grain to began shipping it back east. At first his ship carried only a few barrels, but every trip this cargo increased tremendously. Soon there were ships full of these cargoes flooding the port with grain - making Buffalo the great grain port for the country.) Edward enjoyed this life very much and decided to make a career out of sailing these beautiful lakes.

The sailing season was great but the long winters back in Buffalo must have been tough. I have no idea how he spent his winters, perhaps he took a few trips down the Mississippi with Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) although Sam wasn’t born until 1835. There was plenty of work back in booming Buffalo.
There was also plenty of excitement down on Canal Street, one of the roughest, toughest most bawdy streets in the country. The art of boxing, that he had learned from his Irish coworkers on the canal came in pretty handy in these times. He was always glad when spring rolled around, so he could get back on the lakes.

A strange new type of ship began making its appearance on the lakes around this time. It belched smoke and churned up the waters but made great headway, even against the wind. It was at the cutting edge of technology at the time, it was the sidewheeler steamboat. Huge paddle wheels on each side of the ship pushed it through the water at a pretty good clip. Edward decided to try working on these new ships.
He gave up his job as a sailor on a schooner and became a “paddler” on a steamship. He was still doing this when the City Directory interviewer asked him in 1857 what his occupation was? “I am a paddler”, he answered.

Today when I sit by the old lighthouse at the head of Buffalo harbor, enjoying a warm summer day, viewing our beautiful waterfront I like to think of the many times the old Captain must have sailed into the harbor being guided by the light beam of this same lighthouse, which was not so old at the time.

Things were really heating up in the country in the 1850s. The Southerners were threatening to secede from the country and start their own country. Thousands of Irish and German immigrants were coming into the country. They were not keen on slavery especially when they saw recaptured slaves being brought back south in chains.
They were mostly refugees from oppression themselves and did not like what they were seeing. They were becoming a bigger and bigger voice in the country's politics. Harriet Beecher Stowe had written her book entitled: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” which was getting everybody all riled up.

The Republican Party, a brand new political party, had just been formed specifically to combat the spread of slavery in the west. At its first meeting in Jackson, Michigan, July 1854 it adopted resolutions calling for the repeal of Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Fugitive Slave Law.
It also denounced slavery as a political, moral and social evil. This action sent shock waves through the south. The Southerners could see the writing on the wall, the powerful influence they had exerted on the country since its inception was on the wain. They were going to secede before they lost too much power.

Edward had seen some of the slaves escaping up to Canada through Buffalo on the “underground railway” and some being caught and taken back south in chains,. When the war finally broke out in 1861 Edward was already 59 years old. Too old to join in the fighting.
During the next four years of bloody slaughter, Captain Edward’s sidewheeler paddled up and down the lakes, moving cargo and troops to the Union Army fighting along the Mississippi. His ship brought back captured prisoners and wounded soldiers. These were extremely busy years for both the lake ships and the canal barges.

By the end of this terrible war, Edward was 63 years old and thinking it may be time to settle down, although he didn’t relish giving up life on the lake. Around this time he met a beautiful young widow named Melvina Abbott Carlyle (She had a daughter named Hanna). There were many Civil war widows looking for husbands at this time.

Melvina was only 25 years old, when she fell in love with this rugged old “paddler” and accepted his marriage proposal. They were married in 1866. Edward gave up his beloved "sidewheeler" but he could not give up life on a boat altogether so they decided to buy a small canal barge that they could live on, earn a decent living and also bring up their children.

Grandma Lillie Mae was born on the barge in 1867 and spent the first five years of her life traveling up and down the Erie Barge Canal - the canal that her father had helped build forty five years earlier. Edward died in 1872 when Lillie Mae was only five years old leaving Melvina a widow again. Melvina died ten years later, leaving Lillie Mae, then 15 years old and her brother John, orphans, her half sister Hanna was older and may have stayed in Buffalo.

After Great Grandmother Melvina died, Lillie and her brother John, moved to Coburg, Ontario, where they lived for the next several years, with their mother’s family. Lillie Mae was working as a maid in Oshawa, Ont. when Grandpa William Hamilton spotted her singing in the choir at the Methodist church. He fell in love at first sight and began courting her.
She felt the same way toward him so they were married in Whitby, Ontario in 1890. The young couple moved to Morris, Illinois where they began raising their family and Grandpa worked as a tanner.

Around 1900 they moved back to Oshawa and then to Buffalo to continue raising their family. They were so poor at the time that they left their daughter Irene with another family until they could afford to send for her. When they did - the other family would not give her up - so she grew up out there, married Joseph Akre and had 11 children of her own. We were lucky enough to meet Aunt Irene when she came to one of the family picnics - but I never met any of her children.

I only remember Grandma Lillie Mae when she was a little sweet old lady who had to do all her chewing with the one tooth she had left in her mouth. She and Grandpa had 12 children, (my dad, Charles was one of them).
Grandma Lillie Mae died in 1949, she was 82 years old. Just two generations, Edward and Lillie Mae, had spanned 147 years! The Freeman family had been in America 314 years at that time.

Donald Louis Hamilton 1998 - revised in 1999, 2003, 2012.

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