Who Was FreeJoe

Who was FreeJoe?

“The slaves gave him a new name. They called him FreeJoe. Whites gave him a new name, too. They called him FreeDoc. Some even called him Indian Joe.”

Joseph H. “FreeJoe” Harris was born in slavery on July 18, 1796 in Goochland County, Virginia. He became a Baptist minister in 1829. He was emancipated on September 5, 1832. He came to Eads, Tennessee about 1833. He was one of the early pioneers of Fayette/Shelby County, Tennessee. He was the father of 13 children. Some were born free and the others as slaves. In 42 years he was able to accomplish the following in Eads, Tennessee:
  • He purchased his wife Fanny and youngest daughter, Virginia out of slavery in 1834.
  • He and his wife Fanny became the first couple of color to marry in Shelby County, Tennessee on April 18, 1835.
  • He was the first architect of color in Shelby County, Tennessee. He built the oldest brick structure currently standing in West Tennessee in 1833-34. It is located in Germantown, Tennessee.
  • He built Bethany Christian Church in Eads, Tennessee in 1838.
  • In the latter part of 1838 he fled to Indiana with his family to avoid “The Trail of Tears.”
  • In 1840 he returned to Eads/Shelby County, Tennessee.
  • In 1841 he became an agent for the “Underground Railroad.” He provided his brethren with housing and food before escorting them north to freedom.
  • He sent his daughter, Virginia, and a granddaughter, Lettie, away to be educated at a college in Lancaster, Indiana in 1848 at a time when men were educating their sons.
  • He did the rehab work in 1850 on “GreenLevel,” an antebellum-style house in Collierville, Tennessee. The house is on the National Register.
  • He was the first person of color to handle the U.S. mail and serve as an agent of the U.S. government during the Civil War.
  • He owned a stagecoach line, “The Harris Line,” that ran from Bolivar, Tennessee to Memphis on the Memphis/Bolivar trail now known as Highway 64/Stage Road, with an occasional run to Jackson, Tennessee. Runaway slaves were hidden underneath his stagecoaches.
  • He owned a Stagecoach Inn at Airline Road and Highway 64. Mr. Prybus of Bolivar, Tennessee made the following statement on August 15, 1864: “He entertains travelers in a far better style than anyone on the road.”
  • He established Gray’s Creek Missionary Baptist Church on February 15, 1843 in Eads, Tennessee. It is the first and oldest African-American Church in rural Shelby County, Tennessee. A historical marker has been placed by the Shelby County, Tennessee Historical Commission.
  • He was an agricultural, sheepherder and bee farmer.
  • He was among the first men and first man of color to orchestrate a prenuptial agreement on October 1, 1869 in Shelby County, Tennessee.
  • He was the first man of color to orchestrate a will in Shelby County, Tennessee. It was created on May 9, 1873 and filed on August 17, 1875 in Shelby County, Tennessee.
  • During his lifetime he purchased over 1600 acres of land in Shelby County, Tennessee and sold over 1400. Dog Wood Village sits on land that he formerly owned which was donated by his descendants.
  • His favorite Bible verse was: “Do not err, my beloved brethren,” James 1:16.
  • He died on July 15, 1875. He is at rest in Gray’s Creek Missionary Baptist Church cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Shelby County, Tennessee. A historical marker has been placed by the Shelby County Historical Commission.
You can buy the books FreeJoe, A story of Faith, Love and Perseverance and The Search for FreeJoe, Researching a family’s History: An Actual Account today in the FreeJoe Enterprises Store .

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