Category Archives: Days Gone By

Leander and Zilpha Elmina Wright Freeman

Leander Freeman was born in 1834 in the Bear Wallow Community — now called Gerton — of what is now Henderson County. He was the oldest child of S. Lawson Freeman (1808–1895) and Jane Rhodes Freeman (1818–1891). Leander Freeman was the grandson of gunsmith, road builder and farmer, Nathaniel Robinson Freeman (1776–1831) and Catherine Seward Freeman (1769–1850). Freeman was raised on his father’s Bear Wallow farm. When Leander “Lee” Freeman was 24 years old he married Zilpha Elmina Wright on July 13, 1858 in what was then McDowell County, NC.
Zilpha Elmina “Elminie” was the daughter of Robert Lawson Wright (1799–1866) and Sarah Fagan (Phagen) (1815–c1885). Elminie Wright was born September 5, 1841 in the Flat Creek section of Broad River in what was then Rutherford County, NC. (It became McDowell County in the early 1840s and Buncombe County in the mid-1920s). Lee and Elminie Freeman lived near her parents in the Flat Creek section (now often called Nesbitt Chapel or Garren Creek area). The Civil War broke out soon after their marriage. Elmina was expecting the couple’s first child.
Leander Freeman was forced to leave his family and go off to war. He was in Company H 29 NC Regiment of the Confederate Army. Lee was at the Battle of Stoney River outside Murfreesboro, TN in December 1862. More Fairview men were killed or wounded at Stoney River than any other battle of the Civil War. Almost every family in Fairview had someone killed or wounded at Stoney River. Leander Freeman was wounded in the Battle of Stoney River. He soon came down with typhoid fever. Thinking Freeman would not live, his commanding officer sent him home to die.
Freeman had to walk all the way home from central Tennessee barefoot in the middle of winter. He somehow made it home and recovered. Lee Freeman was determined not to go back to his unit. Civil War deserters were not looked down upon by most rural mountain people. Mountain people hated the government. It didn’t matter whether it was Union, Confederate or North Carolina. A few rural people who had slaves were gung ho for the Confederacy but for the most part only Asheville was rabidly pro-slavery and Confederate. There was the Home Guard that would search the mountains looking for deserters and young men who did not go to war. Often the Home Guard would just shoot down the deserters and young men when they found them. If they didn’t shoot them they would arrest them and turn them over to the army. Lee Freeman knew he would have to hide out until the war and its aftermath was over. He dug a hole under the cellar of his house. Freeman knew he could not have an entrance to the hiding place from the inside of the house. The Home Guard and bushwhackers would check the cabin floor for loose boards that might lead to hiding places and look underneath the house. Lee dug a tunnel from his hiding place under the house to a flower box in the yard that was a good distance from his cabin. He would haul the dirt out at night and dump it in his fresh plowed garden. After the hiding place was finished, Freeman would slide the flower box over after it was good and dark and come out. He would eat and work in his fields in the dark of night and then slip back into his hiding place before sunrise. Leander Freeman kept this up until after the war was over. He did not know who or what would take over the local government, so he kept hiding for months after the war ended.
The year after the war ended, Elminie Freeman’s father, Robert Lawson Wright, went to Augusta, GA to get the supplies that couldn’t be grown or made at home. These items were coffee, sugar, etc. No one ever bought anything in Asheville unless it was an emergency. Asheville had no cheap form of transportation to bring in supplies from the outside. The railroad hadn’t come to Asheville and the French Broad River was useless as a means of transportation. Locals would take turns going to Augusta several times a year to get supplies. Augusta was below the falls of the Savannah River and large ships could come up the river to the port city. This made goods a fraction of the price you could find in Asheville. Lawson Wright and a Lankford man were coming back from Augusta with their wagon loaded with supplies not only for them but their neighbors, as well. The wagon was hitched to six horses in order to pull the heavy load up Saluda Mountain, (I-26 does not go down Saluda Mountain. Saluda Mountain and Saluda Gap are located on the way to Greenville, SC. Saluda Mountain separates Henderson County, NC from Greenville County, SC. Lankford was riding the center horse pulling the wagon and Lawson Wright was sitting in the wagon seat guiding the wagon. Whether Wright took a curve too fast or the road side gave away isn’t clear but the wagon turned over and killed Lawson Wright. The date was December 13, 1866 and Robert Lawson Wright was 67 years old.
Elmina Freeman’s mother lived next door to the Freeman’s after her husband’s death. Charlotte “Lottie” Trantham (1842–1935) and her illegitimate son Millington Lytle Trantham (1867–1956) moved in with Sarah Wright and helped take care of her for a few years. Sarah Wright then moved in with her daughter and son-in-law until she died.
Lee and Elminie Freeman were members of the old Broad River Baptist Church. One Sunday a member charged Lee with selling apples on Sunday for the making of brandy. The next Sunday the church met (church services were only once every 4 weeks back then), Leander Freeman was brought up and tried by the church on the charges made at the last meeting. Just as the church was about to exclude Freeman for selling apples on Sunday to make brandy, his wife Elminie stood up and said, “You’ve got the wrong sow by the ear. I sold them apples.” Neither was excluded.
Leander Freeman died in 1907 at age 73. Zilpha Elmina Wright Freeman died March 29, 1924 at 83 years old. Leander and Elmina Freeman were buried in Laurel Springs Baptist Church Cemetery.
Leander and Zilpha Elmina Freeman had two children:
Sarah Jane Freeman was born June 3, 1861 in the Flat Creek section of Broad River Township in McDowell County, (now Buncombe). She married Emil Adelbert Kirstein who was born June 25, 1865 in Landsburg, Germany. He died March 21, 1944. Sarah Freeman Kirstein died September 5, 1920. Both are buried in Laurel Springs Baptist Church Cemetery. All of the Fairview Kirstein’s descend from this couple.
Robert Lawson Freeman was born June 2,1871 in the Flat Creek section of Broad River Township. He married Sarah Ellen Lee (September 7, 1872–June 4, 1935). Ellen was the daughter of John Lee (1844–1927) and Mary Lankford Lee (1858–1928). Robert Freeman committed suicide October 8, 1939. They had no children. They did adopt Ellen’s sister’s daughter Leota Lee (1899–1981) who married Willard B. Reed (1901–1981). Robert and Ellen Freeman are buried in Nesbitt’s Chapel Cemetery next to her parents.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. If you have photographs, documents or history on residents of the community, call Mr. Whitaker at 628-1089 or send an email to him at brucewhitaker@bellsouth.net.