Eighty years ago today, a newspaper in a small central-Ohio town published a tribute to one of its citizens on the occasion of his 100th birthday. “Nestus Freeman, colored citizen of this city — ” Nestus Freeman? “Mr. Freeman was born in Wilson, North Carolina, on March 16, 1839.” Born in Wilson? Who was this Nestus Freeman?
The article mentions that Freeman ran away from slavery as a child (or, had never been a slave); began barbering at age 7; fought for the Union under an assumed name during the Civil War; worked on a riverboat between Pittsburgh and New Orleans; lived in Urbana and Richwood, Ohio, before settling in Marysville in 1880; had lost his wife in 1909 due to a house fire; and had at least two children, son Shirley Freeman of Marysville and daughter Gertrude Putnam of Cleveland.
Marysville Journal-Tribune, 17 March 1939.
What information can be gleaned from readily available records?
On 13 March 1873 Nestus L. Freemond married Amanda E. Diltz in Champaign County, Ohio. A tiny notation in the corner of their license identifies them as members of Champaign’s tiny African-American community.
The young family relocated to a larger town in an adjoining county. In the 1880 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: barber Enfield Freeman, 30; wife Amanda, 26; and daughter Lydia, 5. [Later documents show Nestus’ middle initial as E. Was this for “Enfield”?]
In the 1900 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: Nathan [sic] Freemond, 51, barber, born Pennsylvania; wife Amanda A., 45, hairdresser; and children Lydia, 22, hairdresser, Shirley, 19, barber, Elsia, 16, and Gertrude, 10.
Amanda Diltz Freeman died 1909 as a result of burns suffered in a catastrophic house fire. A local newspaper printed a sympathetic account of her last days:
Marysville Journal-Tribune, 20 May 1909.
In the 1910 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: at 301 North Maple, N. Freeman, 70, barber, born in Ohio, and children Lydia, 32, Shirley, 29, barber, and Elsa, 25, barber.
In the 1930 census of Marysville, Union County, Ohio: at 307 North Maple, owned and valued at $3000, widowed barber Nestus Freeman, 86, born in Pennsylvania; daughter Lydia M., 54; and son Shirley, 49, barber.
As Nestus Freeman entered his upper 90s, newspapers delighted in reporting on his picturesque life.
Marysville Journal-Tribune, 14 July 1937.
Saint Cloud (Saint Cloud, Minn.),
Marysville Tribune, 31 March 1938.
Pittsburgh Courier, 25 March 1939.
In the 1940 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio: at 10103 Yale Avenue, John Putnam, 63, shade cutter at department store; wife Gertrude F., 42; father James A. Putnam, 84; and father-in-law Nestus Freeman, 96, born in North Carolina.
At last, days before his 102nd birthday, Nestus Freeman passed away at his daughter’s home in Cleveland.
Union County Journal (Marysville, Oh.), 3 March 1941.
Here’s another death notice:
Marion (Oh.) Star, 5 March 1941.
Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Marysville, Ohio, circa 1900. Nestus and Amanda Freeman’s funerals were held here, and they may well be pictured. Photo courtesy of Allen Chapel’s Facebook page.
Charles [Shirley] Freeman died 7 October 1948 in Orwell, Ashtabula County, Ohio. Per his death certificate, he was born 13 June 1886 in Marysville, Ohio, to Nestus Freeman of Wilson, N.C., and Amanda Diltz; was married; and had worked as a barber.
Gertrude Putnam died 5 February 1953 at Perry township, Stark County, Ohio. Per her death certificate, she was born 14 March 1885 in Marysville to Nestus Freeman and Amanda Diltz; resided in Orwell, Ashtabula County; and was married. She was buried in Oaklawn cemetery, Marysville.
So, was there a connection between Nestus Freeman of Ohio and Oliver Nestus Freeman of Wilson?
- There is the obvious hint in their names. Was O.N. named after an uncle who left North Carolina long before he was born?
- Though Nestus reported his birthplace as Pennsylvania to Union County census takers, it was recorded as North Carolina by a Cuyahoga County enumerator; as Wilson and Wilton, North Carolina, by two reporters; and as Wilson on a son’s death certificate.
- Another hint lies in children’s names.
The graves of the Freeman family are marked by a single large red granite headstone in Marysville’s Oaklawn cemetery. Nestus and Amanda’s dates should read 1839-1941 and 1854-1909.
The back of the stone lists the Freeman children (except Gertrude in Cleveland.) Notably, two of Nestus’ children, Lydia and Daniel, shared names with two of O.N. Freeman’s siblings, Lydia Ann Freeman Norwood Ricks and Daniel Edward Freeman. And — surprise! — there’s a brother of Nestus, also named Daniel. Photos courtesy of Findagrave.com.
The dates given for Daniel Freeman’s lifespan seem unlikely. A 1792 birth year would have made him almost 50 years older than his brother Nestus. I did some searching for Daniel and — voilà!
Marysville Journal-Tribune, 15 October 1926.
Daniel Freeman, too, had held the title of Marysville’s oldest citizen! Daniel, age 102, died at the home of his brother “Nathaniel Freeman, the colored barber” in 1926. Daniel had only recently come to Marysville after working as a blacksmith in Cleveland for forty years. Per the article, Daniel was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in October 1924 to Mr. and Mrs. Lovett Freeman. In this telling, it was Lovett (not Nestus) who worked for years on a steamboat running from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. (Again, the names — O.N. Freeman had a brother Lovett Freeman, the oldest of Julius and Eliza Daniel Freeman‘s children.) And then the clincher — “He is survived by two brothers, Julius, a carpenter of Wilson, North Carolina, and Nathaniel [sic] of this city …”
Death certificate of Daniel Freeman, which lists his parents as Lovette Freeman and Lottie, maiden name was unknown.
Julius Franklin Freeman was born about 1844 in Johnston County, North Carolina. He appears in the 1870 census of Wilson as an adult, already working as a carpenter. Neither his marriage licenses nor his death certificate list his parents. Based on the above, however, it seems clear that Julius’ father was named Lovett Freeman and that he had at least two brothers, Daniel and Nestus.
The 1840 census of Johnston County lists a Lovet Freeman. The census taker apparently forgot to mark the columns beside his name to designate the age and color of members of Lovet’s household, but he was most likely a free person of color. If this were Daniel and Nestus and Julius’ father, when did he and his family leave North Carolina? Did they first migrate to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania? Did Julius remain behind, or did he return, perhaps after the Civil War? Were there other children? The 1860 census of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, shows North Carolina-born blacksmith Mathew Freeman, 45; wife Fairly, 30; and children Daniel, 14, Henry B., 10, Lovet B., 9, Liza A., 7, Joseph G., 3, Hanna B., 3, and Bob, 5 months. Again, the names Daniel and Lovett. In addition, Julius had sons Henry and Joseph as well. Was Mathew Freeman perhaps a brother of Lovett Freeman?