Thomas Freeman (1738/9 -)

6c. John Freeman (1740-1803) Indigo Maker and Ironmonger from Northamptonshire

In which we look a little more closely at John Freeman (1740-1803), who married Ann Backler (1741-1820), speculating that the woad industry of Northamptonshire prompted his move to London to improve his fortunes in the related industry of indigo making. Also considering his links with the Ironmongers Company and his certain acquaintance (or more?) with the Pellatts, who played a prominent role therein and whose heritage we will examine in future posts.

The tree above will form the basis of this and the next post (or two). It shows two generations of descendants of Thomas FREEMAN (1684-1761) and his wife Dennis GARE (1710-1782). Of particular relevance to this post are John Freeman, who we know married Ann Backler in London, and John’s brother William Freeman (1745-1795), also to be found in London.

From his Will and other sources (see below) we know that John was an Indigo Maker. Without direct evidence, it is possible to speculate that this occupation was related to John’s and brother William’s migration from Northamptonshire to London from an area in Northamptonshire actively involved in the production of dye from woad, a crop widely grown in the area. A post on the Whilton history website describes this industry in some detail. (https://whiltonlhs.org/whilton-history/f/woad-in-whilton ). The post describes the itinerant nature of woad workers, the necessity for communities to separate themselves from the dreadful stink of woad processing (and from the workers who carried this stink with them), and the gains to be made by landowners in letting out fields for growing the biennial crop. Every four years or so, the workers moved on to other sites. One place of residence was in the now-defunct village of Glassthorpe, almost certainly the location cited in entries in the Flore Parish Register, which also indicate that family groups were involved in the woad industry:

. 1732 Apr 9. James son of William & Martha Phipps (Woading-Labourers at Clastrop) was baptized.

1732 July 14. William son of Edward & Mary Phipps (Woaders at Clastrop) was Buried. Affadavit Dated, July 20.

1740 June 22. Elizabeth daughter of Thomas & Elizabeth Neal (Woad-Folks) was Baptized.

1740 July 12. James son of Peter & Elizabeth Neal (Woad-folks) was Baptized.

1740 July 20, James son of Peter & Elizabeth Neal was buried. Affid: Dated, July 25.

Woad was the native-grown plant which produced blue dye, but a richer, darker dye could be got from Indigo, which from the start of the 18th century was increasingly being imported from Asia and the Americas, produced largely through the work of slave or indentured labour. (See, for instance:Blue in Eighteenth Century England: Pigments and Usages. Zoriana Lotut. https://journals.openedition.org/1718/1214?lang=e )

From Northamptonshire to London: At some point, probably in the 1860s, William and John – together or separately? – went to London. The first record we find is that of John, being made free by redemption of the Ironmongers Company, on 24 July 1769. The transcribed record on findmypast shows him as a ‘Blue merchant’, son of Thomas Freeman, gentleman. Proposed by W. Price. In 1787, William Freeman (1745-1795), Indigo Maker, becomes free by redemption, proposed by J Freeman, his older brother (nepotism abounds in the City Livery Companies). Further family links appear in Ironmongers’ records over the next decade:

  • Thomas Freeman is apprenticed to John Freeman, 20 March 1779. This Thomas, said to be aged 15 years, is said in the record to be the son of Thomas Freeman (1738/9 – ), Cordwainer, of Bedford. As mentioned in John Freeman’s Will of 1803, the father is John’s older brother Thomas, baptised in Weedon Bec in 1738/9 and frustratingly elusive after that. Young Thomas, apprenticed first to his uncle John, was shortly after, on 17 June 1779, turned over to John Grant, Citizen and Glover, of the Glovers’ Company. No more is known about Thomas Snr or Jnr. Records from Bedfordshire are not very evident online.
  • Thomas Freeman, this time son of John Freeman (1740-1803), was apprenticed to his father, John Freeman, Indigo Maker of St Giles Cripplegate, on 30 April, 1793, for no consideration. This apprenticeship would see out its full time, with Thomas being made Free by service to his father John, on 30 April 1800. We will return to this Thomas (1779-1853) in a future post.
  • William Freeman (1779 – ), son of William Freeman (1745-1795), who we have seen above, became free of the Ironmongers by redemption, was on 29 August 1793 bound apprentice to his father William Freeman, Little Aldermanbury, Indigo Maker. However, William Snr’s dates as above show that he died in 1795, so on 25 November 1795, young William was ‘turned over’ to his uncle John Freeman, Citizen and Ironmonger, for the duration of his apprenticeship. I have not found a record of William being made free of the Ironmongers.
  • George Freeman (1780-1854) also son of William Snr, on 27 November 1794 was also bound apprentice to his father. After William Snr’s death in 1795, on 19 March 1796, George was turned over to George Tompson (see next bullet point), Citizen and Ironmonger, to serve out his apprenticeship. I have not found a further record of George’s apprenticeship, but we will return to him in future posts.
  • George T(h)ompson (as in the previous bullet point) was made Free by Redemption of the Ironmongers on 24 June 1788, son of George Thompson, Gent (of Northamptonshire). George Jnr was a tea dealer, and was the brother of Judith T(h)ompson ( – 1785), late wife of William Freeman Snr. George was proposed for his freedom by … John Freeman! (Are you keeping up? – nepotism, indeed.) We will return to this family in a later post.

The Aldermanbury Postern address, hard by the city walls in St Giles Cripplegate, was the site of the indigo makers variably named as Grace and Freeman (appearing in London directories between 1781 and 1794), later Freeman John & Son (by 1803), then Freeman and North (1817). William Freeman (died 1795) and Henry Grace (died 1798), and John Freeman, were in partnership, with John taking over for the brief period after their deaths until his own in 1803, the original partnership having been dissolved in 1795, just before William’s death, as recorded in the London Gazette as follows:

June 24, 1795. The partnership subsisting between Henry Grace, John Freeman and William Freeman, in the Business carried on under the firm of Grace and Freemans of Aldermanbury Postern, London, Indigo Blue Manufacturers, is this Day, by mutual Consent, dissolved, the Share of the said Henry Grace being made over to the remaining partners, the said John Freeman and William Freeman, who undertake to settle all Matters relating to the said Copartnership. Henry Grace. Wm. Freeman. John Freeman. The London Gazette Issue 13790. 23 June 1795. p. 663

I am not sure who took over after John Freeman died in 1803. Could the ‘and Son’ have been his son Thomas, who had served his apprenticeship under John and then been made free of the Ironmongers? Suffice to say that at his death in Brighton in 1853, as a ‘Merchant’ he was evidently a very wealthy man. The source of his fortune is unknown. We will meet this family again.

This post has aimed at locating John Freeman and his brother William in London from their Northamptonshire origins. A review of their families in future posts will very partially uncover the tangled roots of the Freeman and related families.