Site of Freeman Thomas Home, Civil War Veteran
On this site, former slave and US Army veteran Freeman Thomas built a home in 1910. Thomas had been born and enslaved in Williamson County. When he was a teenager, the Civil War broke out and Thomas made his way to Nashville where he worked for the US Army building forts and in August 1863 he enlisted in the US Army's segregated US Colored Troops. Following the War, he married, returned to Franklin and raised a family. He worked as a laborer, carpenter and stone mason. Around 1910, 64-year-old Thomas had a new home constructed in the Bucket of Blood neighborhood at this site. Freeman Thomas died in the home on his 91st birthday, May 17, 1936
Backstory and Context
"I belonged to Jim Caruthers. He was a good man, and he had about one hundred darkies. I was just a little motherless child, kicked and knocked about. . . . I can just recollect when my mother died and the funeral was preached right over there by Farmer’s Bluff [today's Park at Harlinsdale Farm]. . . . Slavery was not such a bad time for me. I was young and my mother and father died when I was real young. We'd play marbles and run rabbits, and there was always eighty or ninety little child on our place. They had an old woman there to look after them - one that had broke down. When company would come, they would put clothes on them and march them up to the house so they could see his little n******."Freeman Thomas was about just a teenager when the Civil War began and described that time this way:
I wasn't very old when the Civil War began. I had just turned into my sixteen year. I remember when the Yankees come to this town. My old boss hit me that morning' and he didn't know the Yankees were in town, and when he found it out he come back begin' me to stay with him, and said he was sorry.He recalled that,
"When the Yankees got near Nashville, the [slaves] started running to ‘em."Nashville was under Federal occupation beginning in February 1862 and Freeman Thomas made his way there where he worked to build fortifications including Fort Negley. Freeman Thomas enlisted in the US Army's segregated 12th US Colored Infantry on August 12, 1863, along with 50 other men from Williamson County who enlisted in the same regiment. His enlistment records describe him as a 22-year old farmer, however later in life, he said that "When I went to the War I was turning seventeen."
The 12th US Colored Infantry worked to complete and guard the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, built to link Nashville with the Tennessee River at Johnsonville. The new railroad, designed to supplement the overtaxed Louisville and Nashville Railroad and the steamers supplying the Cumberland, was a crucial link in the Union supply lines stretching toward the vast armies doing battle around Chattanooga. On November 2, 4 and 5, 1864. Freeman Thomas and the 12th US Colored Infantry were involved in repulsing Confederate General Hood's attacks at the Johnsonville Battery.
Thomas' next significant fighting was at the Battle of Nashville on December 15-16, 1864. He said this about those days:
It was when we made the attack on Gen'l Hood we was not far from John Overton's place south of Nashville [today the museum site Traveller's Rest]. I received the wound in my left leg in John Overton's wood lot. It was during the fighting in defense of Nashville with Hood's Army. My regiment followed up the fight. I was carried back that evening to the Hospital in Nashville. I think the Wilson Hospital and remained there about six weeks. When I next joined my Regiment they were on camp near Nashville on the North Western R. R."At some point after the Battle of Nashville and before he mustered out, Freeman Thomas was granted a furlough to visit his home in Franklin. He describes that visit this way:
I went to see my mistress on my furlough [James Carothers had died], and she was glad to see me. She said, "You remember when you were sick and I had to bring you to the house to nurse you?" and I told her, "Yes'm, I remember," And she said, "And now you are fighting me!" I said, "No'm, I ain't fighting you, I'm fighting to get free."After the War, Thomas married and settled in Franklin. He first built a home on Franklin Road near today's Park at Harlinsdale Farm. Around 1910, 64-year-old Thomas had a new home constructed in the Bucket of Blood neighborhood at this site.
Freeman Thomas appeared in the 1930 Census living here at 107 Church Street. Freeman Thomas was 84 years old and widowed. His home was valued at $900 and he was living with his granddaughter Patty Davis Swanson 26 - a school teacher at the Franklin Training School on Natchez Street - and her husband Charles Swanson 28 - a clothes presser.
Freeman Thomas died at his home on May 17, 1936. His obituary was published in the newspaper. It described how his funeral was held at the "First Colored Baptist Church" in Franklin - today's First Missionary Baptist Church. The Reverends L. E. Coleman, J. R. Stratton, and J. T. Patton officiated and veterans of the Spanish-American War and World War I served as pallbearers. His obituary stated that Thomas,
"a lifelong resident of Williamson County, died Sunday morning, on his ninety-first birthday, at his home. . . He was an industrious and prosperous man and widely respected by whites and negroes alike in Williamson County."The American Legion applied for an American Flag to be draped on this casket at his funeral. Thomas' family had an official US Colored Troop headstone installed at his grave in the historic African American Toussaint L'Ouverture Cemetery in his honor.
- Fisk University, The Unwritten History of Slavery (1968).