FREEMAN, (CAPTAIN) JOSEPH HEWETT, Superintendent of the Illinois School for the Blind, Jacksonville, was born in Poland, Me., May 13, 1841, and is a son of Col. Joseph and Abigail (Gross) Freeman. The family traces its descent to Edmund Freeman, who was born in Devonshire, England, in 1590, and came to America in 1635, settling at Saugus, later named Lynn, Mass. Edmund Freeman, born in 1657, was previous to 1692, associated on a committee with John Alden and Miles Standish. Joseph Freeman, great-grandfather of Professor Freeman, was Town Clerk of Duxbury, Mass., from 1779 until 1785.
Col. Joseph Freeman was a successful merchant, and his children enjoyed substantial educational advantages. His son, Joseph H., attended the public schools, and in 1861 entered the Maine State Seminary, at Lewiston. In 1862 he enlisted for nine months in the Twenty-third Regiment Maine Volunteer Infantry, and was elected Second Lieutenant, his regiment being assigned to picket duty and engaged in the defense of Washington. On returning from the army, he reentered the seminary, which had been merged into Bates College. Before and during his collegiate course, he taught school at intervals, and in 1864 was graduated from the preparatory institution.
In the spring of 1865 he reenlisted in the service and became Captain of Company H, Fourteenth Regiment Maine Volunteer Infantry, which he commanded until the close of the war. Then he returned to Poland, resumed his studies in Bates College, and taught during the winter of 1865-6. He received the degree of A. M. from Bates College and in 1866 removed to Leland, Ill., where he served three years as Principal of Schools. In the fall of 1869 he was chosen principal of the Brady School at Aurora, and in 1870 became Principal of the Public Schools in Polo, Ill., where he remained until 1874. In the fall of that year, he was called to Denver, Colo., to serve as principal of the High School there. After spending a year in that city, illness compelled his return to Maine.
While convalescing, Capt. Freeman taught in a private school at Unity, Me., but was soon offered the principalship of the Township High School at Streator, Ill., where he served one term. Before going to Streator he was reelected to his old position in Polo, which he filled from 1876 to 1879, serving also as Mayor of that city. In 1879 he served as President of the Illinois School Principals' Society, and in the year named was made Superintendent of the West Side Schools of Aurora, continuing in the latter position until December, 1886. At that period he was appointed Deputy State Superintendent under Dr. Richard Edwards, who, in one of the biennial reports, writes thus of Capt. Freeman: "Mr. Freeman entered upon his duties without previous experience relating to the same (his work as chief deputy), but by his energy, readiness and high executive ability, he soon made himself master of all that belonged to the work." In August, 1889, Capt. Freeman was called to the superintendency of the East Aurora schools, to which position he was seven times reelected. In 1896 he served as Deputy under State Superintendent Inglis, and at the latter's death in 1898, was appointed by Gov. Tanner as his successor, serving as such until January, 1899. He was also Deputy under Supt. Bayliss until July 1, 1902. He was President of the Illinois State Teachers' Association in 1893, and President of the Illinois School masters' Club for two terms in 1897-8. Captain Freeman's retirement from the post of Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, in 1902, was due to his appointment to his present position.
In politics, Capt. Freeman is a Republican, and has been mentioned favorably in connection with the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. He is a devoted member of the Congregational Church, in which he serves as Deacon. For the past twenty-five years he has been a valued member of Aurora Post No. 20, G.A.R., having served as Commander for three years. He was formerly of the Masonic Order in Polo, and was Master of Mystic Tie Lodge. He is now a member of Harmony Lodge, A.F.&A.M. of Jacksonville, and Aurora Commandery No. 22, K.T., and has served as Captain General, Generalissimo and Eminent Commander.
Mr. Freeman was married August 25, 1867, to Mary A. Stone, of Unity, Me. To them six children have been born, of whom four are living, viz.: Grace, who is in her sixth years as teacher in the Springfield High School; Joseph Edwin, who is practicing law in New York City; Perley L., who is connected with the office of the Consolidated Gas Company in New York City, and Harry, who is in his junior year in Illinois College.
Mr. Freeman has been interested in several successful business enterprises, being one of the ten men who located the Scraper Works in Aurora. Several years ago, he became interested in the milling firm of Burns, Treat & Company, of Lemars, Iowa. Their plant was destroyed by fire in 1884, and the business was then reorganized under the name of the Plymouth Rolling Mill Company, capitalized at $50,000. Mr. Freeman has since been a stockholder of the company, which is doing a large business. He has also invested in farms and other property.
Capt. Joseph H. Freeman is a clear and convincing speaker, and is much in demand on public occasions. His work as an educator has received high commendation from prominent sources, and he is in possession of formal testimonials from boards of education and other public bodies, attesting in emphatic terms to the value of his labors in this direction. Though he has been a resident of Jacksonville for a comparatively brief period, he has become intimately identified with the social, fraternal, educational and religious interests of the city, as his strong characteristics and worth have found ready recognition among people of intelligence and culture. He is an earnest worker, retaining the energy and ambition of young manhood, and, as the head of one of the greatest philanthropic institutions of the Middle West, has found a sphere where his splendid attainments can be best applied.