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McLean County, Illinois
History and Genealogy



CALEB FREEMAN, one of the honored pioneers of McLean County, is a gentleman possessed of fine personal traits of character, more than ordinary ability, a deep thinker and extensive reader, and essentially a self-made man. He is well informed upon matters of general interest, liberal in his religious views, and in all respects one of the most intelligent citizens of this locality. He is occupied in farming pursuits, and is pleasantly located in Dale Township, on section 8. His home farm now comprises 340 acres. During his long residence in the Prairie State, he has established for himself an enviable reputation as an honest man and good citizen, and one who has contributed his full quota toward the advancement and development of one of the wealthiest States in the Union.

The subject of this history was born in Butler County, Ohio, on the 11th of December, 1814. His father, John Freeman, a native of New Jersey, was one of the early pioneers of the Buckeye State. His son Caleb was but a small child when both the parents died, and the orphan boy was taken into the home of his uncle, then living in Butler County. The latter subsequently removed to Mercer County, and left Caleb Freeman and his only sister in charge of a neighboring farmer, John Carter, who lived a few miles from Wapakoneta.

The county was thinly settled at the time, and wild game of all kinds was plenty, and our subject well remembers his wanderings over the hills and through the forest, and the lonely feeling which often took possession of him as he thought of himself and his sister severed from home ties and kindred by a Providence which they were too young to understand. The sister grew to womanhood and removed to Indiana, where she died. After living with Mr. Carter two years, the Overseer of the Poor removed Caleb Freeman and bound him to John Holderman in Montgomery County, with whom he lived until old enough to learn a trade. He was thus employed until sixteen years of age, and then served three years for his board and clothes while learning the trade of a tanner with Snyder & McPherson. He then removed to Miami County, and was employed by James Hannah for the following two years. He followed his trade in different places in Ohio, and during the last four years of his residence in that State was at Franklin, Warren County.

In the meantime Mr. Freeman had been married, and in February, 1840, accompanied by his wife and her father's family, started for the prairies of Illinois. Their outfit consisted of three horses and a wagon, and they carried with them their household goods and provisions, camping and cooking by the wayside, and sleeping in the wagon at night. They arrived in Dale Township on the 28th of the same month, and Mr. Freeman has been a resident of this township since that date, embracing a period of over forty-seven years.

Mr. Freeman, at the time of his arrival here, had not a dollar in cash at his command. He and his wife moved into a small log house on her father's farm, and shortly afterward Mr. Freeman borrowed $100 and commenced business by purchasing hides and establishing a tannery. As soon as he had leather enough prepared for further operations, he hired a shoemaker and had the leather converted into boots and shoes. His tannery was located on the west side of Twin Grove and the middle branch of Sugar Creek. He operated in this manner until June 5, 1845, then took the balance of his stock and packed it ready for transportation to St. Louis. He loaded it onto a wagon and took it by team to Pekin, thence by steamer to St. Louis, where he sold it. He had been prosperous in his leather operations, and when he sold out he had money enough to pay his indebtedness and start in farming. He had previously entered eighty acres of land on section 8 of what is now Dale Township, and he now proceeded to the erection of a farm house. He put up a one story and a half building, twenty feet square, on the open prairie. As there was great danger from prairie fires he always kept a strip burned around his buildings to prevent their being destroyed. and even with this precaution was obliged to keep a close watch lest some stray spark might set fire to his little property,

The nearest markets in those days were at Pekin and Peoria, and it took two and one-half days to make the round trip. Wheat only brought from forty to ninety-four cents per bushel, and oats ten cents. The pioneers were obliged to avail themselves of every shift and turn in order to make both ends meet, provide themselves with the necessaries of life, and proceed with the improvements on their new homesteads. But they all "pulled together," each one helped his neighbor whenever he could do so, and in due time success began to smile upon their persevering and united labor.

The marriage of Caleb Freeman and Miss Martha Barnard took place at her father's farm, nine miles north of Dayton, Ohio, on the 28th of November, 1839. Mrs. Freeman was a native of Montgomery County, Ohio, and was born Feb. 14, 1819. Her parents were Samuel and Rebecca (Compton) Barnard. She became the mother of eight children, and after remaining the faithful and affectionate companion of her husband for a period of forty-five years, departed this life on the 11th of May, 1884. The children born of this marriage are recorded as follows: Rebecca became the wife of Josiah Myers, and lives at Towanda, Ill.; Samuel is a resident of Bloomington; Eunice married Lucius Rogers, and lives near Ellsworth, this county; Victoria, Mrs. George L. Conkling, lives in Atlantic, Iowa; Clinton D. occupies a part of the old homestead; L. Edward is now farming in York County, Neb.; Elizabeth died at the age of ten years and ten months; Abraham L. is a citizen of Kansas.

For his second wife Mr. Freeman married Miss Mandana Grace Thurman, the wedding taking place at Charleston, Coles Co., Ill., on the 14th of January, 1885. The present Mrs. Freeman was born in Knox County, Ill., and is the daughter of Isaac and Rebecca (McGrew) Thurman. By this union they have one daughter, Jessie Belle; they have also an adopted daughter, Jennie May Freeman.

Mr. Freeman has been prominent in the affairs of this county since becoming a resident here. At the time of the organization of the township, he proposed for it the name of Dale, which was adopted without opposition. He has done what he could toward its moral and educational advancement, and is held in the highest esteem by his fellow-citizens. During the earlier years of his life he was a member of the Whig party, but after this party was abandoned, and the Republicans organized, he has cheerfully indorsed the principles of the latter, and with them uniformly casts his vote.

The portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Freeman are shown in connection with this sketch.

Portrait and biographical album of McLean County, Ill. : containing full page portraits and biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens of the county, together with portraits and biographies of all the governors of Illinois, and of the presidents of the United States. (Chicago: Chapman Brothers, 1887), 627. Transcribed and annotated by Judy Rosella Edwards.


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