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Free family descendants settled in Coffee, Covington counties

There are some descendants of the Free family who currently reside in Covington County, Ala., but this writer has not been able to relate them to those who lived predominantly in Coffee County. It is hoped that in time it will be possible to explore any connection between the two different family groups.

A couple of family stories found in The Heritage of Coffee County, Alabama present a good coverage of many of the Free descendants in that area. The earliest ancestor identified in those narratives was Jacob Seth Free who was born in 1804 in Edgefield County, S.C. Family trees on Ancestry.com show his father to be Jacob Free, b. 1765, d. 1828, m. Lacy Morris (1769-1830). Upon reaching adulthood, Jacob Seth was married to a young lady named Nancy whose surname was not mentioned in the family stories. However, some family trees on Ancestry.com list Nancy’s surname as Hearn. She was also born in 1894 and lived until 1860. Jacob lived another 20 years before he died in 1880 in Alabama, probably Henry County.

Jacob and Nancy Free apparently migrated to Henry County, Ala., as that is where their son, Matthew Bane Free, was born in 1837. Jacob and Nancy were the parents of the following children: William, b. 1830; Mary M., b. 1832; Margaret, b. 1833; John W., b. 1836; and Matthew Bane, b. 1837. Jacob and his brother, James Free, both served as privates in the Creek Indian War of 1836. They enlisted in Captain Blackshear’s Company of Blair’s Battalion, 25th Regiment of Alabama.

Jacob and Nancy’s son, Matthew Bane Free was married in 1859 in Pike County, Ala., to Nancy Ann Matilda Brown, daughter of Green Field Brown. As stated earlier, Matthew was born in 1837 in Henry County where he grew up as well as some years in Pike County. When the War Between the States erupted in 1861, he and his brother, John W. Free, enlisted in Henry County for service in the Confederate Army. They reported for duty on May 15, 1862, at Ortho, Ala. Matthew was assigned to Company D, 39th Alabama Infantry Regiment, and John W. was in Company E of the 39th Alabama Infantry. Matthew was wounded during the Battle of Chickamauga in Northern Georgia. He was disabled from wounds in his arm and shoulder blade and was honorably discharged from service in June 1864. His brother, John W. Bane, lost his life during the Battle of Chattanooga, Tenn. Years later, John W.’s widow, Martha A. Free, filed for a widow’s pension based on her husband’s military service.

Even though seriously wounded, Matthew survived the war and returned home after being discharged still able to work his farm. In 1870, he and family were living in Dale County, Ala. When the 1880 census was enumerated, Matthew and his family had migrated to the Victoria community of Coffee County where he was continuing to farm. In 1900, the family was living in the Holley community of Coffee County. By 1911, Matthew was residing in the Town of Samson, Geneva County, where he died during that year.

Matthew Bane Free and wife, Nancy Ann Matilda, were the parents of the following children: Henry Franklin, b. 1860, d. 1929, m. 1889 Ella M. Johnson (1872-1930); Nancy, b. 1862, d. after 1936, m. 1879 John Perry Nolin (1852-1928); John Thomas, b. 1864, d. 1936, m. 1895 Martha Elva Bradley (1852-1929); William Elijah, b. 1866, d. 1949, m. (1) 1887 Ophelia Chambless (2) about 1904 Alice Hodges; Laura M., b. 1869, d. after 1936, m. (1) 1889 ? McDaniel (2) 1893 J.S. Carter (3) 1934 ? Sanders; Ella Jean, b. 1871, d. 1921, m. (1) George M. Hudson (1867-1909) (2) 1910 William M. Wright (1869-1948); Margaret Adline, b. 1873, d. 1947, m. 1893 Hampton Middleton Fowler (1873-1946); Jacob, b. 1875, d. young from mule kicking him in head; James Monroe, b. 1880, d. 1952, m. 1902 Ruth Nallie Young (1896-1954); and Susan Florence, b. 1881, d. 1951, m. 1902 Thomas Washington Wilkes (1871-1953). Some records also list a Noah Carl without dates. If he is a child in this family, he probably died in infancy.

The descendants of the second oldest son, John Thomas Free, who was born in 1864 during the War Between the States, will be followed from this point. He settled his family in the Basin community of Coffee County where he became a farmer. He has been described by his descendants as one who enjoyed the company of relatives and neighbors. He was known to invite the entire community to help him celebrate on his birthday. He especially enjoyed making homemade ice cream for the occasion.

John Thomas “Tom” Free was married to Martha Elva Bradley, daughter of Irwin Preston Bradley Jr. (1846-1924) and Rhoda Catherine Craig (1840-1925). They were married in 1895 and became the parents of the following children: David Craig, b. 1896, d. 1918, probably single; Rhoda Catherine, b. 1897, d. 1931; Jessie James “Jim,” b. 1900, d. 1982, m. 1926 Jessie Melvira Bryant; Irwin Preston, b. 1901, d. 1981, m. 1941 Alma B. Boutwell; Robert Lee “Bob,” b. 1903, d. 1986, m. 1930 Vida Mae Bryant; Martha Elva, b. 1905, d. 1998, single and was a caregiver; John Thomas Jr., b. 1907, d. 1911; Henry Grady, b. 1908, d. 1967, m. 1934 Lucy Katrene Wyrosdick; and Charlie Joseph, b. 1911, d. 2002, m. 1933 Betha Ellen Parker.

Tom’s second oldest son, Jessie James “Jim” Bane, was described as being tall in stature with deep blue eyes. As most of his ancestors and relatives, he earned his living by farming, but he later did carpentry work. He helped build a number the houses in the community where he lived, which was near the Shiloh Baptist Church on County Road 189. His house was a frame one with brick siding. There was a huge barn on the property where a tractor could be kept, but Jim parked his 1959 Chevy BelAir car there. During the early years, they secured water from an outdoor pump before running water was available. Of course, “wash day” required much pumping to fill the wash pot and tubs for doing the laundry.

In 1926, Jim Free was married to Jessie Melvira Bryant, daughter of Felix Thomas Bryant. They became the parents of two sons:  James Bascom, b. 1927; and Willie Thomas, b. 1933. The Jim Free family was quite religious and faithfully attended the Elba Church of Christ. Following church services and Sunday dinner, they would visit Jessie Melvira’s father and other uncles and aunts. Jim’s brother, Bob Free, was married to Jessie M.’s sister, Vida Mae Bryant.

Jim’s brother, Irwin Preston Free, was married in 1941 to Alma B. Boutwell. They resided in Elba where they owned and operated the Free Grocery Store. They were also the parents of two sons: Leon Rudolph, b. 1945; and Joseph Kenneth, b, 1949, d. 1981.

Another brother, Robert Lee “Bob” Free, was born in 1903 and died in 1986.  He was married in 1930 to Vida Mae Bryant, and they made their home in the Kinston community of Coffee County, where Bob owned and farmed 71 acres.  They also had two sons: John Felix, b. 1933, d. 1995; and Lee Bryant, b. 1937, d. 1988.

Still another brother, Henry Grady Free, was born in 1908 and died in 1957. He was married in 1934 to Lucy Katrene Wyrosdick, and he became a farmer as well. They were the parents of two children: Alia Elvalene, b. 1936; and Gerald Mack, b. 1942. 

The youngest brother, Charlie Joseph Free, was born in 1911 and lived until 2002. In 1933 he was married to Bertha Ellen Parker, and they were the parents of two sons: Owen Thomas, b. 1936; and Charles Edward, b. 1942. Charlie worked as a motor grader for the Coffee County Highway Department for 38 years.

The sources for today’s story include Ancestry.com and the two family stories in The Heritage of Coffee County, Alabama, which were submitted by descendants, Charles Free and Patricia Ann Kilkenny, both of Hamilton, Ohio. Anyone who finds an error in the story is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL  36420; 334-804-1442; or Email: cthomasson@centurytel.net.