Rev John Freeman (1703-1786)

6a. Ann Backler and John Freeman: exploring a newly-discovered (and extensive) Backler line

In which we unveil some details about Ann Backler (1741-1820) and her husband John Freeman, Indigo Maker (1740 – 1803), spurred on by contact to this blog by a very distant cousin descended from this partnership. In this and some subsequent posts we will briefly look at the Freeman family, and then (again, briefly) follow the many descendants, featuring some great wealth, and lots of clergy and military folk. We will move on from the report in Blogpost 6, ‘The Family of Sotherton Backler, Apothecary, and his wife Ann Ashley’ which stated as follows:

Ann 1741 –       m. John Freeman 12 July 1770 at St Andrew by the Wardrobe/St Ann Blackfriars, witnessed by S Backler and Sarah Rowley. Nothing more is known about Ann and John. [But, now, read on…]

John Freeman, of the Parish of St Ann Blackfriars, Bachelor, and Ann Backler, of the Parish of St Dunstan in the West, Spinster, were married by Licence at St Andrew by the Wardrobe on 7 July 1770. Witnesses were S Backler [her brother Sotherton Backler (1746-1819)], Sarah Rowley [not sure who she is] and Elizabeth Backler [almost certainly Ann’s sister, born 1748/9, whose fate I have not managed to trace. The tree below shows the married couple and their six children (of whom more in succeeding blogposts). The baptism records of some of the children show that John was an Indigo Maker.

John FREEMAN (1740-1803) was born in Weedon Bec, Northamptonshire, son of Thomas FREEMAN (1684-1761) and Dennis [sic] GARE (1710-1782). I spent many engaging hours in the summer of 2022 working with distant cousin Chris to disentangle the various lineages originating in Northamptonshire and linked in many different ways to Ann Backler and John Freeman. My challenge is to get them into some kind of order for the purposes of my Backler blog! The very many descendants of John Freeman and Ann Backler are cousins of one sort or another with me and the other Backler descendants chronicled on this site – all sharing in some degree as grandparents, Sotherton Backler (1704 – 1763) and Ann Ashley (c.1714-1768).

For some time I had linked the name of Ann Backler with that of John Freeman, but it wasn’t until his death date of 1803 was suggested to me that I identified the correct John Freeman, among many possibilities, and found his Will, clearly citing his brother-in-law Sotherton Backler as an executor. The Will was one of those very helpful ones, citing lots of clearly-labelled relations. It showed that John Freeman was resident in Newington Green, Middlesex, hard by Islington and Stoke Newington, the places of residence of many of our Backler and, later on, Boulding and Pellatt ancestors. However, John wished to be buried at St Ann Blackfriars, right by the Society of Apothecaries and the site of many Backler baptisms and burials.

By the time of drafting his Will, just one of John and Ann’s children had married, three having pre-deceased them. Mary, the youngest, had in 1802 married to soon-to-become very-wealthy Richard Pack, cited as an executor in John’s Will. (More about them anon.) Son Thomas would marry soon after his father’s death, and daughter Sarah would follow a couple of years later. She is left a handsome legacy, with provision after John’s wife Ann’s death for both daughters and their children. Also mentioned are John’s niece, Mary Gough (which, in sorting out various Freeman families in Northants helps to confirm John’s family), and John’s brother Thomas, of Bedford – a mysterious soul, indeed. The Will shows that John owned a house in Fore Street, Cripplegate, where the Sotherton Backlers also had lived – could this house have come to him on his marriage to Ann?

John Freeman was the great grandson of Richard FREEMAN [1] ( – 1694) and Mary GODFREY [sometimes GODFREE] of Brockhall (1622-1691). Brockhall was one centre of residence for the Freemans, Godfreys and others prominent in John Freeman’s family tree. Adjacent parishes include Dodford, Norton, Whilton and Flore, all places of births, marriages and burials of various kin.

Richard Freeman [1] was a Bonesetter, a largely un-formally-trained version of an osteopath, chiropractor and physiotherapist. Such was his fortune, however acquired, that in 1644 he purchased the Manor of Whilton. His and Mary’s son Richard FREEMAN [2] (1646-1684, note he died ten years before his father, so Richard [1’s] grandson inherited) married his cousin Elizabeth GODFREY. ‘Our’ John FREEMAN was the youngest son of Richard FREEMAN [2].

A number of features marked Whilton in this period. First, and perhaps relevant to the bonesetting, was the Civil War. Northamptonshire supported the Parliamentarians, but battles took place all around the area, including in Whilton and Flore, and notably at nearby Naseby.

Not having found any contextual information for that period, there is later evidence found by my Freeman-sleuthing partner: reference to Mr Freeman, Bonesetter in Memoires of the Verney Family, Vol IV, downloaded from

Young Edmund Verney, a student at Oxford from 1685-8, has had an accident, and damaged his elbow. On 6 April 1687, his father wrote to Dr Thomas Sykes: ‘ This day about noone yr Messenger Brought me the ill newse of my Sonnes unlucky accident last Munday. I am very sorry for it : But am extremely joyfull to under- stand by you that the worst is past with this and that He is in so fayre a way of amendment soe I Hope There is noe Danger in a dislocation of an Elbow, where such excellent Chirurgions and Bone setters are at Hand, and Physitians if occasion Be : I Guesse This was done at wrestling…’ However, the arm continued to prove troublesome, and by May young Edmund still did not have proper use of it. On 14 May 1687, his tutor wrote to the lad’s father, also Edmund: ‘His arme is free from paine, but he hath not yet the right use of it, And upon that Account as soon as I was fearfull that all was not right, I would have had him gone home to you in order to his consulting some very skilfull Chirurgion, and particularly advised him to one Mr. Freeman who lives near Daventry in Northamptonshire, and is every market Day Here at the Wheatsheaf. This man here is look’d upon by Physitians and others as the most skilfull Bone setter in all England, And therefore I had a desire that your Sonn should have his opinion ;‘ On 22 May 1687, young Edmund’s father wrote: ‘The famous Bone setter Mr. ffreeman Lookt upon the arm and ffelt it, and sayd it is right sett, and nothing out, but That the sinues are shrunk wch makes Him That Hee cannot Hold his Arme streight : But Mr. ffreeman sayes his Arme will Do well : and Be as streight as ever, if Hee Doth use it and exercise it with care : and ffollow his directions and prescriptions.

An entry in the Parish Register of Brockhall does record one impact of the Civil War: ‘May 4th 1653. Brockhall Parsonage was by Mr. James Cranford resigned to the Present Rector thereof Mr. William Borlee, who by Reason of the Warrs between the Royalist [sic] and Parliamentarians not being Constant Resident until February 2nd 1646 noe Just Account could be taken of the Severall Baptizeings Marriages and Burrials.

Whether the above hiatus also afftected a delay in baptising of Richard Freeman [2] from his birth in 1646 to his Baptism in 1650 is not known. What is known is that he and Elizabeth Godfrey had five children, of whom the oldest, Richard [3] (1677-1749) and the youngest, Thomas Freeman (1684, the year of his father’s death – 1761) are most relevant to our story.

First off, Richard [3] (1677-1749) had two wives, Mary CORPSON (1680-1707) – 6 children, most of whom were short-lived except for the Rev. John Freeman (1703-1786), educated at Pembroke College Oxford and then Rector of Louth in Lincolnshire. His half-siblings were the children of Richard FREEMAN [3] and his second wife, Elizabeth LANGTON (1688-1761), whose first son the Rev Langton Freeman (1710-1784) inherited Whilton Manor. Langton was the oldest of ten children, and an avowed eccentric. His and his siblings’ stories are interwoven throughout the vicinity, including Daventry, Northampton, and into Warwickshire. Much too numerous to delineate here, and anyway, they aren’t Backler descendants! His Will, however, made unusual provision for his interment:

first, his body to lie in the Bed in which he dies for four or five days until it becomes offensive; then to be moved in the Bed to the summerhouse in the garden, ‘and to be wrapped in a strong double winding sheet, and in all other respects to be interred as near as may be to the description we receive in Holy Scripture of Our Saviours Burial. The doors and windows to be locked up or bolted and to be kept as near and in the same manner and state as they shall be at the time of my Decease. And I desire that the Building or Summer House may be planted around with evergreen plants and fenced off with Iron or Oak pales and painted of a blue colour. For carrying this out, he gives Whilton to his nephew Thomas Freeman (1746-1801), son of Langton’s brother Thomas (1715-1777) and his second wife Anne Adams ( – 1781). Nephew Thomas died in 1802, and the estate passed to his daughter Marianne (1788-1866), who had married Dr Charles Rattray ( – 1836). The estate was then sold.

This takes us to the branch, founded by Richard FREEMAN [2] and Elizabeth GODFREY, and of direct interest to the Backler story: that of Thomas FREEMAN and his wife Dennis GARE. BUT, to develop this story in bitesized chunks, I will leave this family to the next post! Hopefully there won’t be too much of a gap before it appears.