Today’s post is about one of my favorite discoveries, my Freeman ancestors and their connection to the Chowan Indian tribe of North Carolina. It has been a tiresome (but well worth it!) journey to reach this point. Because of that, this post will be done in reverse to explain how I came to find this lineage. Enjoy!
The research of my Freeman family line begins with my great grandfather, named Freeman Wildrick. He was born 3 Apr 1902 to George and Mattie Freeman Wildrick in a small town located in southern Nebraska, Hendley, Furnas County. Because he was given his mother’s maiden name, I began my research on a hunch that her family had done great things. And I was so glad I did, because my great-grandfather wasn’t the only one who shared a name with his ancestors.
Through census records, I traced Mattie’s parents, William Harrison and Rhoda Edwards Freeman to Conway, Taylor, Iowa. Mattie’s grandparents, Micajah and Margaret Christy Freeman, as well as her mother, Rhoda are buried in a small cemetery just outside of town. Mattie’s grandmother Margaret passed away in June of 1881, her mother followed in July of that same year, and in July of 1882, her grandfather passed. Mattie was only eight years old. The three share a tombstone, each side is carved with their names, death dates, and age.
But how did the Freeman’s get to Iowa? For that answer, I traced back to the next generation through census records and found Micajah’s father, also named Micajah. Micajah Senior moved his family from North Carolina to Indiana sometime in the late 1820s. Through ancestry.com, I was able to find Micajah Senior’s father, William Freeman, who moved to Missouri around the same time as Micajah Senior moved his family to Indiana from North Carolina.
William Freeman served during the Revolutionary War under the commands of Francis Child, Colonel Abraham Shepherd and General Nathanael Greene. He was also rumored to have been a scout for General George Washington when Washington surveyed the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia/North Carolina. And here is where the tree ended for quite some time. Because early census records become tricky to navigate because only the male head of household is named, all females and males under the age of eighteen with no property holdings are listed only by a hash underneath the corresponding gender and age (the WORST part of living in a male dominated society), I had little options available to trace. Vital records (birth, marriage, death) can be spotty in some states/counties, so typically wills or land contracts can be my best option in locating family members.
After some missteps, walking down the wrong branches of the tree, and listing the wrong people as William’s parents and grandparents, I stumbled upon a book titled John Freeman of Norfolk County, Virginia: His Descendants in North Carolina and Virginia and Other Colonial North Carolina Freeman Families. My library didn’t own a copy, but because they are a part of an inter-library loan program through WorldCat, I was able to request the book from another library within the country and try to find William Harrison, the Micajah’s or William Freeman within the family tree since I was certain of my lineage to them. The problem I continued to run into was the repetition of names (for the LOVE of all that is genealogically holy, people should not name their children after parents or siblings for generations!). There were William’s and John’s everywhere, with no birthdates, no spouses and incomplete trees. So while the early history of the Freeman’s and the Chowan Indian tribe caught my interest, the book was less than helpful. However, I want to take another look to see if there’s something I may have missed before because I was so narrow-minded on my initial search.
So after struggling to continue the family line, I decided to try a different tactic, and research the Chowans of North Carolina. The Chowans, or Chowanoke tribe, was the largest Algonquin speaking tribe that lived in North Carolina, and they resided along the banks of the Chowan River. However, due to contact with the English in the 1580s, much of the tribe was decimated by diseases like measles and smallpox, and by the turn of the 17th century, it was largely extinct.
In 1607, an English expedition on orders from Captain John Smith of Jamestown found only a small tribe of Chowan members still living along the Chowan River. In less than fifty years, they had gone from a tribe of 2-3000 to a mere handful of survivors. A few of the last families to remain were the Hoyter’s, Bennett’s, and Robin’s.
Between diseases and wars, I believe that many of the survivors chose to assimilate into white culture in order to survive. Chief Thomas Hoyter even turned to Christianity, and took an English name. In 1733, a John Freeman married Tabitha Hoyter, daughter to Chief Thomas Hoyter. While Thomas Hoyter tried to fight for his people against the Carolina government, and the encroachment and thievery of their white neighbors, the government eventually won and merged the Chowan tribe with the tribe of the Tuscarora. Following this merger, many of the Chowans moved away to join the Tuscarora and there were a flurry of land sale contracts signed by Hoyter following the migration.
One such contract from 1754, was signed by a John Freeman and two other Chowan Indians: James Bennett and John Robins, selling a partial of land to Richard Freeman. Because Chowan land passed matrilineal, and because the white government at that time didn’t recognize women as land owners, women of the tribe needed their husband’s to sign off on land sales. Following the sale of Tabitha’s ancestral homeland, John and Tabitha began their westward movement into North Carolina and the generations that followed moved even further west. And it was through this search that I was able to finally connect the two pieces of the Freeman puzzle:
1st Gen: John & Tabitha Hoyter Freeman
2nd Gen: William & Sarah Williams Freeman
3rd Gen: William & Prisilla Hunt Freeman
4th Gen: Micajah & Elsa Fincannon Freeman
5th Gen: Micajah & Margaret Christy Freeman
6th Gen: William & Rhoda Edwards Freeman
7th Gen: Mattie Ann Freeman & George Earl Wildrick
8th Gen: Freeman and Irene Sutliff Wildrick
The history of the American Indian is one that is horrific and in my opinion, is one of the ugliest, most tragic parts of our American history. But because of that, I think it is something that needs to be taught more fully within our education system. While hindsight is easily acquired, I believe it is a necessity to know in order to prevent (hopefully we’ll be wiser than our ancestors) a genocide of that magnitude from happening again. That said, there is something so completely revering to know that a minute fraction of my bloodline has been walking this land for for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Let me take a moment to think about that.
Below are sites that have more infomation about the Chowans and their history: