Profiles from the Archives: Charles R. Freeman

Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

Although this particular World War I story is short, it echoes the stories of the thousands of Americans who suffered similar fates due to illness, chemical gas exposure, and mental illness as a direct result of servce in the war.

Charles Ross Freeman was born on September 12, 1894, in Randolph County, N.C., to John Hannah and Adella J. Coble Freeman. Nothing is known of his life prior to his military service, nor is anything really known about his parents. At the time that he entered military service, Charles Freeman and his family were living in the town of Gulf in Chatham County, N.C.

It is unknown when, where, or how Freeman entered military service, but by August 1917 he was serving in the U.S. Navy during World War I. Freeman would be stationed at the U.S. Naval Station at Norfolk, Virginia. He served with a steam and gas unit aboard the USS Florida (BB-30), the lead ship of the Florida class of dreadnought battleships, for much of his service period (according to his nephew).

At some point towards the end of his Navy service, Charles Freeman contracted a severe case of tuberculosis. Between December 1918 and through 1920, Freeman was assigned to the U.S. Navy sanatorium for tuberculosis patients at Fort Lyon in Bent County, Colorado. He would later spend time in various tuberculosis wards, including the following: the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital #45 at the Kenilworth Inn in Biltmore, N.C.; and U.S. Veterans Hospital at Oteen, N.C.  

Never being able to get over his illness, Charles R. Freeman died of tuberculosis at his parents’ home in Gulf, N.C., on January 16, 1927, and was buried in Gulf Presbyterian Church Cemetery in the same town.

To view Freeman’s photographs from his WWI Navy service, check out his photographs from the Charles R. Freeman Photographs (WWI 97), WWI Papers, Military Collection, on the State Archives of North Carolina’s Flickr page.

This blog post is part of the State Archives of North Carolina’s World War I Social Media Project, an effort to bring original WWI archival materials to the public through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ (NCDNCR) various social media platforms, in order to increase access to the items during the WWI centennial celebration by the state of North Carolina.

Between February 2017 and June 2019, the State Archives of North Carolina will be posting blog articles, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts, featuring WWI archival materials which are posted on the exact 100th anniversary of their creation during the war. Blog posts will feature interpretations of the content of WWI documents, photographs, diary entries, posters, and other records, including scans of the original archival materials, held by the State Archives of North Carolina, and will be featured in NCDNCR’s WWI centennial blog.