Daniel Freeman (April 26,1826–December 30,1908) was an American homesteader, physician and Civil War veteran. He was the first person to file a claim under the Homestead Act of 1862. He was also the plaintiff in a landmark separation of church and state decision.
Freeman was born in Preble County, Ohio, but was raised in Genesee County, New York and Knox County, Illinois. As a young man he moved frequently, living in Iowa and Illinois. He was a graduate of a medical institute in Cincinnati, Ohio and practiced medicine in Ottawa, Illinois. He enlisted in the 17th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. He married Elizabeth Wilber, who may have died in 1861, though some sources indicate that they divorced. They had three children.
While stationed at Fort Leavenworth, he chose a parcel of land on Cub Creek, four miles west of Beatrice, Nebraska on which he intended to file a claim as soon as the Homestead Act went into effect. He filed a preemptive declaration on the homestead plot in Gage County, Nebraska on September 8, 1862. At a New Year's Eve party in Brownville, Nebraska, he met the clerk from the local land office. He convinced the clerk to open the office and filed his claim shortly after midnight on January 1, 1863, the date the Homestead Act took effect. He was one of 417 people to file claims on that day.
Unlike many homesteaders, Freeman successfully proved his claim. He proposed marriage by mail to Agnes Suiter of LeClaire, Iowa, and married her on February 8, 1865, in her parents' home. Agnes had been his brother's fianceé until his brother was killed in the Civil War. Daniel and Agnes had eight children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. Agnes lived on the homestead until her death in 1931. In addition to homesteading his claim, Freeman also worked as a physician, and served as county coroner and county sheriff. During the period in which the Freemans lived on the homestead several structures were built, including a log cabin, a brick house and several frame houses. None of these structures survive today. In 1936, the Freeman homestead was recognized by Congress as the first homestead in the country and designated as Homestead National Monument of America. It is now maintained by the National Park Service.
Freeman was also the plaintiff in Daniel Freeman v. John Scheve, Et. al, a landmark case concerning the separation of church and state. In 1899, Edith Beecher, the teacher at the nearby Freeman School, was giving religious instruction, including reading passages from the Bible, offering prayers, and leading hymns. (It is not known if this school was named after Daniel Freeman or for Thomas Freeman, an unrelated brick maker and president of the local school board.) Freeman requested that Beecher stop, and she refused, claiming that she had permission from the school board. Freeman then took his complaint to the school board, which backed Beecher.
Freeman then filed suit in Gage County District Court, which found in favor of the school board. Freeman appealed, finally going to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which found that the actions of Beecher and the school board were unconstitutional under the Nebraska Constitution provisions concerning the separation of church and state.
The Freeman school continued to be used until 1967. It has been renovated and is now open to the public. It is located about a quarter of a mile from the National Monument.