Absalom Pennington Free

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Question: What became of the Absalom Pennington Free farm in Salt Lake City, Utah?

Answer: Absalom Pennington Free was born on March 22, 1798 in Burke, North Carolina, to Andrew Free and Mary Pennington. In 1814, land had just been opened up for expansion in St. Clair County, Illinois, when Andrew moved their family to Belleville, St. Clair, Ilinois. Absalom, was the eldest child and would have been sixteen years old at the time.

Absalom married Martha Belcher in 1818, and they had two children, but Martha died six months after her second baby was born. Andrew then married Elizabeth (Betsy) Strait in 1823, and they became the parents of twelve children.

In 1830, the family heard that a missionary from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was in the neighborhood. The family was interested, and the missionary was invited to hold a meeting in their home. They listened, asked questions, and visited, but they did not accept the Gospel at this time.

However, the seeds were sown, and when Elders Simon Carter and John Brown called on them in 1834, they were ready to listen. Absalom and his wife Betsy, Absalom’s parents, two of his sisters, and a large number of other relatives were baptized and became members of the Church at this time. As soon as they became members of the Church, they were eager to join others of their faith in Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri. They sold their property and moved to Far West where Absalom purchased land and built a home.

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Persecution was great during this time in church history. The Saints had been driven out of Jackson County, Missouri. Mobs were ravaging in Davies County, but there had been peace in the city of Far West. This was the beginning of trouble for the Free family. When Absalom joined the forces for defense of the city, he left a sick son at home with the women folk, who, with five other families, had to defend their homes and their lives.

Once, when the girls were on guard on a ridge, they saw part of a mob harassing an aged prisoner. They were shocked to find that it was their grandfather, Andrew Free, who the mob threatened to shoot, unless he would renounce his religion. The faithful old Mormon bared his chest and told them to shoot, but he would never deny his religion which he knew to be true and of God. The leader declared with an oath, that any man who could be that brave and true to his religion deserved to live. The mob released him and he returned to his home.

Once, when Betsy’s daughter, Louise, was standing guard on the ridge, she saw some men riding toward the houses where her mother and the five other families were. She ran and gave the alarm. The women and children hid in the cornfield, but Betsy wouldn’t leave her sick son, even though he begged her to do so. Louise wouldn’t leave either of them. Betsy armed herself with an ax and Louise had a pair of fire tongs. Then they stationed themselves at either door of the cabin. It proved, however, to be friends that Absalom had sent to see how they were making out.

After the Saints were driven out of Missouri, in 1838, the Free family returned to St. Clair County, Illinois, and remained there until they went to Nauvoo, Illinois. During this time they rented a farm, probably near their old home in St. Clair.

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For a couple of years, while in Nauvoo, things were a little better for them. Absalom built another home, and they again began to prosper. Once again persecution drove them from it and from Nauvoo. The mob forced them to flee in 1846. They crossed the Mississippi River in the cold winter of 1846, with hundreds of other members of the Church. They finally arrived at Winter Quarters where the homeless refugees made preparations to journey to the Rocky Mountains.

Absalom P. Free, age 50, his wife, Betsy Strait Free, age 48, and their children are listed as being part of Brigham Young’s Company of 1220 souls who left Winter Quarters, Nebraska, May 26, 1848. This company was well organized for safety and efficiency. It was divided into smaller companies. The Free family traveled in the 7th company and Absalom P. Free was captain of a group of ten wagons. The majority of the Brigham Young Company arrived in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake on September 21, 1848.

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Each family received land when they arrived here on which they were expected to provide a home and living for themselves. The Free family was located on the east side of what is now Liberty Park. They worked hard to clear the land, build a home and improve the property for farming.

Some years later, in planning for the welfare of the Saints in this fast growing town, Brigham Young decided the best location for a large park, Liberty Park, would include the Free farm. This property was traded for several lots nearer the center of Salt Lake, and Absalom once again moved his family.

Absalom Pennington Free was a farmer and stockraiser throughout his lifetime. He was active in the Church and served as a Patriarch for many years. He loved his family and was proud of them. His third wife, Annie Hicks, had seven children. His 4th and 5th wives, Sarah Jerrold Hyder and Betsy Jerrold Whitehead were widowed sisters with families. He respected and cared for them and their families, but had no children by them. Two of Absalom and Betsy’s daughters became the wives of Daniel H. Wells, and one a wife of Brigham Young.

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Absalom died in Salt Lake City on 23 July 1882 at the age of 84 years. His wife Elizabeth (Betsy), passed away in Salt Lake City three years later in July 1885 at the age of 81 years of age. They are buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Source: Excerpts from “History of Absalom Pennington Free” by Mae Biesinger Rose, FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com