July 4, 2012

A Town Called Freedom

For the Fourth of July, Geni.com has created an Independence Day info-graphic showing, among other things, patriotic place names in the United States. Towns by the name of Liberty, Freedom, Independence, Eagle, and America dot our country. One they overlooked, though, was Freedom, Ohio. Now Freedom, which is part of Freedom Township in Portage County, Ohio, never was and never will be a bustling metropolis. But it has a proud history. Four generations of my husband’s family lived and are buried there.

As part of the Connecticut Western Reserve, the tiny town of Freedom was modeled after a New England town and settled, at least in the beginning, by New Englanders. My husband’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, Eli Barnum, and his wife, Jerusha Hart Barnum, were early members of the Congregational church in Freedom. They were recommended to the frontier church by a letter written on July 10, 1837, by Sheffield Congregational Church in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. (1) The First Congregational Church of Freedom continues to serve the community today.

First Congregational Church of Freedom, Ohio

The History of Portage County, Ohio, by Robert C. Brown and J. E. Norris, which is available on Google Books, contains this amusing little anecdote about how the township, and thus the town, of Freedom got its name:

"The name 'Freedom' is supposed to have been suggested by Mrs. Paine, to whom the matter was referred in honor of that lady having been the first female to enter the township. It is said that she first suggested 'Liberty,' but as that name was too common, it was changed. The usual version is that she was a great lover of liberty, and the name naturally came up, but an old settler says that she suggested the title in consequence of quite a number of the inhabitants having left sundry little debts when they came out.” (2)

I don’t know if Eli left any sundry debts behind in Sheffield, but I do know he bought and cleared land in Freedom Township, some of which he then sold to his son-in-law, Fitch Bishop. Fitch’s children were born on the family’s farm, and some of his grandchildren were born in Freedom as well. The land today looks little changed from what it probably looked like then.

Well-tended Freedom West Cemetery is the final resting place of many of the town’s pioneers, including Eli and Fitch. You can see pictures of their tombstones and read a little bit more about them in these posts:

Freedom Cemetery Freedom Ohio
Freedom West Cemetery, Freedom, Ohio 
Fitch’s wife, Sarah Ann Barnum Bishop, was buried in Freedom as well, according to her obituary, and most likely rests beside her husband, although she has no marker. I’ve written about the other members of the Bishop family buried in Freedom West Cemetery:

Freedom, Ohio, may be just a tiny town, little more than a crossroads in the Midwest countryside. But our ancestors left everything they knew behind to settle in small towns like these all over America. In time, those new towns became home. And after all, what could be more American than Freedom on the Fourth of July?

(1) “Congregational Church records, Sheffield, Massachusetts, 1791-1890” (typescript: Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 1901), p. 86, recommendation of Eli Barnum to church in Freedom, Ohio (10 July 1837); FHL microfilm 234572, item 2.

(2) Robert C. Brown and J. E. Norris, History of Portage County, Ohio (Chicago, Illinois: Warner, Beers & Co., 1885), p. 453.


  1. Great post and interesting information about Freedom, Ohio. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It's always great to see your hometown featured like this. It gives you pride and dignity. Thanks for the share.

  3. Thank you for your blog about Freedom, very well done. We have started a Freedom Township Historical Society of Portage County and we now have a group on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/1542559776051816/


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