Robert Patterson Freeman

by Bruce Whitaker

Robert Patterson Freeman was born in Fairview on April 12, 1875, the son of Samuel Jerome “Rome” Benjamin Freeman (February 15, 1849–October 5, 1919) and Elizabeth Ashworth (November 10, 1851–April 11, 1935) and the grandson of Johnson Ashworth (1818-1895) and Mary Merrill (1821-1904). Johnson Ashworth was one the most prominent and well-to-do men in Fairview in the late 1800s. Rome Freeman lived in a large house near Cane Creek (now Fairview) Baptist Church, his home the lodging place of traveling Baptist preachers.

Rev. Robert Patterson, a preacher from Flat Creek, north of Weaverville, came to stay at Rome Freeman’s house when Bob Freeman was just a newborn. Rev. Patterson saw the baby boy and asked his name. Rome Freeman told him “no name yet.” Preacher Patterson said, “His name shall be Robert Patterson Freeman.” 

Rev. Elijah Allison (1839-1923) was a famous preacher from Transylvania County who preached in WNC and Tennessee for 66 years, baptizing 5523 people. He came to Fairview to conduct a revival and stayed at the Freeman house. Allison loved to pull pranks and tease Bob and his brothers. Bob Freeman was a little boy and had a new puppy at the time; Preacher Allison sneaked up on Bob’s puppy and fired a gun in the air. The puppy ran off yelping and was gun shy the rest of his life. Bob Freeman said “he never did have any use for the old, fat preacher after that.”

Robert Freeman’s brother Loly (1869-1907), sister Grace (1871-1896) and brother John (1873-1901) accepted Christ as their savior during that revival. The baptism took place where Ashworth Creek runs into Cane Creek (just a few hundred feet east of the intersection of Charlotte Highway and Cane Creek Road). It was winter and Cane Creek was covered with ice, so a hole was broken in the ice and a pole was put across Cane Creek to keep cattle from getting in the way. Some of the boys attending the event were sitting on the pole, which suddenly broke, dropping the boys into the creek and breaking the ice. Rev. Allison was much amused by the event.

Jerome Freeman moved his family to Chimney Rock in the late 1880s or early 1890s; he owned Chimney Rock and saw potential in it.

I went to see Bob Freeman when he was 99 years old; his mind was still good and he had no trouble getting around, even though he died a few months later. He said his great-great-grandfather Abner Reed moved the Freeman family’s belongings to Chimney Rock, hauling goods and belongings in his wagon pulled by two oxen. He took the wagon down the Broad River to Chimney Rock. Bob couldn’t remember how many trips it took but it was a lot. Locals then as now never go over Hickory Nut Gap to Chimney Rock. The road has always been worse to travel than the Broad River.

Robert Freeman’s father cut the property’s virgin walnut timber and hauled it to Hendersonville. The logs were then sent by train to Charleston, and by ship to London. The walnut trees were four to five feet in diameter, so large a wagon could haul only one log at a time. It took Freeman and his boys two years to clear and deliver the timber.

Jerome Freeman then opened Chimney Rock as a tourist destination. He would lead tourists up a trail, carrying a stick to chase the snakes off the trail. He also ran Freeman’s Inn at Chimney Rock. Several of Bob’s unmarried sisters and brothers lived at the inn until they died.

Robert Patterson Freeman married Margaret Esther Shipman on December 27, 1905. Esther was born in 1880, the daughter of T. J. Shipman. Bob’s brother Joseph Loly Freeman, sheriff of Henderson County, died in 1907, and Bob finished out his brother’s term.

Freeman told me he went to school with my grandfather’s first cousin, E. Merida Mitchell (1869-1941), who became sheriff of Buncombe County. Freeman laughed about the odds of both schoolmates becoming county sheriffs. 

Bob Freeman opened a general store at the corner of 7th Avenue East and Locust Street in downtown Hendersonville; it was the place farmers bought their overalls and work shoes. Bob Freeman was known as “Mr. Republican” in Henderson County, and his son Robert, who ran Freeman’s News Stand, was known by the same title until he died in his 90s.

Robert Freeman’s wife Esther Shipman Freeman died in 1967 at the age of 87. Bob died August 17, 1974 at age 99. Both are buried in Shephard Memorial Cemetery in northern Henderson County.

They had six children.

Thomas Benjamin Freeman was born in Henderson County on February 3, 1907.

Grace Elizabeth Freeman was born in Henderson County on December 1, 1908. She married Thomas Richard Vail.

Raymond Robert “Bob” Freeman was born in Henderson County on December 1, 1911. He married Elizabeth Watson Bryant (1916-1982).

Mary Katherine Freeman was born in Henderson County on August 12, 1913. She married Joseph Ernest Noffz (1911-1981).

Allen Ashworth Freeman was born in Henderson County on June 22, 1918. He married Kathleen Orr, born in 1919.

Albert Shipman Freeman was born in Henderson County November 11, 1922. He married Irene Taylor.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. You can reach him at 628-1089 or email him at [email protected].

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