Freeman Surname Meaning, History & Origin
society many were serfs, essentially beholden to their lord. But some were free. The
Freeman surname origin was from the person who was a freeman,
one who was
not a serf and thus had certain rights.
name. Many blacks adopted the surname of
Freeman after emancipation in 1863. It
is noteworthy that the Freeman name today is strong in the states of
Old South with their history of slavery.
Freemen can also be Jewish, from the Germanic Friedman or
Freeman Resources on
- The Freeman Family
Freemans in Cambridgeshire.
Early Freemans in New England.
- Freeman Freemans in
Freemans in Georgia.
- The Freeman Family and the Village of
Freemans in Ontario.
has been a
name of southern England, either in the west or in the east.
Western England. The Freeman surname
was evident at an early
time in the English counties bordering Wales.
It has been conjectured that this was due to the large number of
captives that had been reduced to serfdom or slavery there. A number of them probably did become freemen.
Freemans at Beckford near
Gloucestershire date from 1469 when John Freeman was recorded as a
there. Samuel Freeman kept an inn there in
1637; and the manor house was held by the Freemans from about 1700 to
In another Gloucestershire village were the
Freemans of Batsford, going back to about 1500.
Thomas Freeman, well-known for his epigrams in the early 1600’s,
this family. Freemans were also recorded
in the village of Ebrighton.
Eastern England. However, larger
Freemen numbers were to be
found in eastern England, in Northamptonshire and then in London and
Ralph Freeman, born in
Northampton, was one of the leading English merchants in Calais and was
of Northampton in 1550. He died in 1558,
the year that Calais was lost to the French.
Henry Skinner of Irchester prospered as a steward
for a number of manors at this time and he invested his proceeds in
land. His four sons were all entered into
guild, the Skinners’ Company.
families by the name of Freeman, all ultimately bearing the same arms,
from Northamptonshire to London in Elizabethan times.
Martin Freemen, a member of the London
Fishmongers’ Company, and his son Ralph, who received a gentleman’s
and became a protégé of the Duke of Buckingham, were among the most
enterprising of these Freemans. Ralph’s home at Betchworth in
Kent stayed with
his descendants until 1817. Meanwhile another
Ralph Freeman, of the Clothworkers’ guild, became Lord Mayor of London
By the mid-19th century the largest numbers
of Freemans were to be found in London and Surrey.
Freemans of Castle Cor in Cork were probably English in origin. John Freeman built the house around 1650 on
the ruins of an old castle there. These
Freemans became the Deane-Freemans through inheritance in the late
can also have Irish roots, being in some cases an anglicized version of
Gaelic Mac an tSaoir sept.
early Freemans went to New England.
were three notable
Freeman arrivals here, two of whom came to Cape Cod:
Freeman from London
arrived with Winthrop’s party in 1630 and settled in Watertown. Three Samuel Freemans followed him, all
resident at Eastham on Cape Cod. They
were followed by a Barnabas and then another Samuel living on the
Freeman, possibly related, came on the Abigail in
1635, being first at Lynn (where he was said to have brought
twenty pieces of plate armor as defence against the Indian arrows) and
Sandwich on Cape Cod. Dr. Nathaniel
Freeman of this family was a Brigadier General during the Revolutionary
Ralph Freeman, also from London, first
appeared at Dedham, Massachusetts in 1651 and later moved to Attleboro. His grandson Ralph migrated north to New
Hampshire in the 1740’s.
New England has been covered in two books:
Freeman’s 1875 book Freeman
Genealogy in Three Parts
Robert Freeman’s 2005 book Freeman Families of New England.
Bridges Freeman from Oxfordshire came to the Virginia colony in 1625
extensive land holdings along the Chickahominy river.
When he died in 1655 he may have left
children. But as he left no will this
has been questioned.
in Henrico county, Virginia date from the
early 1700’s and possibly earlier. Holman
Freemen, born there in 1714, took his family across the Savannah river
Wilkes county, Georgia in 1773. He died
there ten years later. His son Colonel
Holman Freeman had a distinguished Revolutionary War record; his
granddaughter Mary Freeman
married the future
Governor William Bibb.
Freeman line in Wilkes county, Georgia – probably unrelated – began
marriage of Gabriel and Lucy Freeman there in 1794.
William Greene from North
Carolina served as a scout for General Washington during the
War. His descendants settled in Greene
is a special surname for African Americans following Emancipation in
1863. It is perhaps surprising that it is
commonplace than the Washington and Jackson names used by freed slaves. But the preponderance of the Freeman name
in the Old South does testify to the importance of African Americans
Freeman name in America.
earliest black Freemans were in the North, with its earlier history of
Pearson Freeman was a former slave from
Massachusetts who earned his freedom fighting for the Green Mountain
Continental Rangers during the Revolutionary War. He
settled in Rutland, Vermont. His grandson
was Martin Freemen,
college-educated, who departed for Liberia during the Civil War.
Other black Freemans of these times were:
Bet who was the first enslaved African
American to file and to win in 1781 a freedom suit in
Massachusetts. After the victory she
took the name of Elizabeth Freeman.
- Chatham Freeman from Wallingford, Connecticut who secured
after fighting as a substitute during the Revolutionary War.
Quash Freeman from Derby, Connecticut, freed in 1800, who was
recorded as the “black Governor of Connecticut” in 1815.
Two sisters from Derby – Mary and Eliza
Freeman – purchased adjoining properties in Bridgeport, Connecticut in
1848. These homes have been preserved.
the South, Abraham
Freeman who received a land grant in Bladen county, North Carolina in
said to have been mulatto. In fact his
family has always proudly claimed a family lineage that also included
significant Native American heredity. In
the 1840’s Alexander Freeman migrated south to Myrtle Beach in South
where he and his descendants were fishermen. Later
Freemans developed Freeman’s
Beach as a resort there in the 1920’s.
William and Ellen Freeman were slaves in Craven
county, North Carolina. During the Civil
War they were able to gain their freedom by escaping to Brushton, North
Carolina. It was there that they received help from Union
soldiers until they
eventually found land whereon they could settle. Thomas
Freeman secured his emancipation from slavery in Georgia at this time. He was one of the founders of the black
community of Freemantown in Rome, Georgia in the years following the
Hubert Freeman was born in North Carolina sometime in
the 1870’s. He later moved to
Mississippi. He was the grandfather of
the actor Morgan Freeman.
Freeman in America could also be Jewish.
Louis Freedman was a Russian immigrant who came to Worcester,
Massachusetts in the 1880’s. His
grandson Carl Freeman, based in Maryland, was a prominent real
developer in the Washington area. He
died in a road traffic accident in 1988.
and Stella Freeman
left Russia in 1904 with their family following a pogrom against the Jews in the Poltava district of
he lived. They made their home in
Brooklyn. Their son Joe became a notable
writer and magazine editor. He is best
remembered as the editor of The New
Masses, a literary magazine associated with the US Communist Party,
the founding editor of the Partisan
William Freeman had come to
Nova Scotia from Yorkshire as a young man in 1759.
His son Joshua moved with his family in 1816
to Burlington, Ontario and a village that became known as Freeman. The Freeman home on Brant Street, built
in 1885, stayed with the family until 1988.
The farmhouse of John Freeman – a descendant of immigrant Edmund
– was burnt down by American patriots in 1777 following the Battle of Saratoga. John fled to Canada but died after a smallpox
epidemic. Family survivors later settled
in Yarker, Ontario. The Freeman
farmhouse there stayed with the family until 1964.
The Rev. Daniel Freeman, a Loyalist, left New
Jersey for the wilds of Norfolk county, Ontario in 1800.
His son Daniel was a farmer there. His
grandson Daniel returned to America in
1873 – moving to the warm weather of Los Angeles for the sake of his
health. Although she died a year later,
he became a major ranch-holder in the area and was instrumental in the
of the town of Inglewood.
Zoltan Freeman was a
Holocaust survivor from Hungary who came to Canada after the war and
and settled down in Hamilton, Ontario.
There he became involved in the confectionary business and was
locally as “the candy man.”
Africa. The Freeman name appeared in West Africa
after the migration of freed slaves to Liberia in the mid-19th century. George Freeman set sail from New Orleans in
1852 but died on the voyage across.
Martin Freeman arrived in 1864 and became the President of
College. Benjamin Green Freeman was a
prominent rubber planter in the early 1900’s and later a Liberian
The Freeman name has since spread to nearby
countries such as Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria.
South Africa. Tobias
Friedman departed Russia for Britain in
the 1880’s, settling first in Liverpool and then in Dublin (where his
was briefly mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses). His son Isaac-Jacob emigrated to South Africa
in 1892 and his grandson Maurice Freeman became Mayor of Johannesburg
Australia. James Freeman
from Cambridgeshire was convicted of robbery and transported to Sydney
in 1817. He eventually settled in the Australian outback, at
Wyee Creek in NSW.
fell on him and he received head injuries from which he never
newspaper cutting recounted how he, having gone walkabout, became lost
Brokenback range in the Wattagan mountains. He was eventually
found by his son a few days later – nearly naked, dehydrated and
and abrasions. He died soon afterwards.”
His son James was married to Soreina
Smith at Wyee Creek in 1859. Granny Freeman, as she
became known, lived a further seventy years, dying there in 1929.
Freeman Surname Origins. In the early days of feudalism two neighbors bearing a common Christian name might be distinguished by epithets denoting their
respective conditions, such as John le Freeman and John le Bonde. These epithets would often become family
English serfs in the
14th and 15th centuries who had won the right to own a patch of land
its produce frequently took the Freeman surname.
The status brought with it
certain other privileges, the most important of which was probably the
pass along the property to heirs. The
status did not confer the right to vote in those ancient days. But it did confer the social benefit of a
certain cachet that separated the holder from those still in peonage or
The Freemans at Beckford in Gloucestershire. The freehold estate in Beckford was held by the
Freeman family from the Middle Ages until the First World War.
Freeman held a house and two yardlands, by knight service of the
Beckford. In the late 17th century
William and Edward Freeman were armigerous. Richard
Freeman, the owner in 1698, was
succeeded by William and William by his son William who died in 1764. The heir to the estate, another William, was
a minor at that time.
the death of William Freeman in 1827 the estate
passed to his nephew John. The
last of the family to hold the estate, Captain William Freeman, was in
possession by 1879. In 1889 this
ancestral house was known as the Manor House.
Captain William sold the estate in 1926.
The Freemans at the Battle of Saratoga and After. During the early years of the Revolutionary War, a crucial battle took place in
September 1777 between the British and American forces at Saratoga in
The log house on John
Freeman’s farm there was used by British General Burgoyne as his
headquarters. Tory John Freeman fought on
side. However, the British suffered
heavy casualties and John Freeman’s log house was burned down to the
The Freemans abandoned their farm and
migrated north to Canada, receiving a land grant for 200 acres near
Chaffeys Locks on the Rideau Canal.
Conditions were tough there for pioneers like the
Freemans. It took time to clear the land
to produce crops. Too long for John
and much of his family who died after just one year following a
epidemic. However, other members of the
family survived and later moved onto Yarker, Ontario.
Mary Freeman and William Bibb. According to the family story, there was once a very pretty
little girl of eight years, full of life and spirit, who by some
mischief had incurred the penalty of the switch – the only means of
in country schools in the good old days.
little maid was the favorite of a
lad of twelve, who sat looking on while the teacher was discussing the
situation with the child.
Mary, I must punish you.”
boy laid down his book and stepping quickly up to the teacher said,
“Don’t strike her: whip me. I’ll take it for her.” As he said
arrested with his hand the uplifted switch. Every eye in that
schoolhouse brightened with approbation, and in a moment after, filled
tears, as the teacher laid down he rod and said: “William you are a
boy, and for your sake I will excuse Mary.”
happened in a country
school in Georgia in 1793. Ten years
later, Mary was the wife – the happy loving wife – of William. And William, 20 years later, was a member of
Congress, United States Senator from Georgia, and later Governor of
was William Wyatt Bibb. His wife was
Mary Freeman, the belle and beauty of Broad River, and the daughter of
Holman Freeman of Virginia and Georgia.
The Marriage of James Freeman and Soreina Smith. Soreina Smith was born in O’Connell Street, Sydney in
1840 and was reared by her grandmother, Mrs. Fennell, whose refined
was reflected in the grandchild.
those days James Freeman was a timber contractor at Wyee and his
meeting with Miss
Smith occurred on one of his business trips to Sydney. A
betrothal followed and Miss Smith, at the age
of 19, traveled on the ship Black Swan to
Gosford (there being no railway at that time) and then rode twenty one
Wyee. There she was married by special
licence on November 29th, 1859.
only one other white women, her mother-in-law, at Wyee. The
country was inhabited by aboriginals and
there were packs of dingoes and many other animals common to the
Martin Freeman, Black at the Time of the Civil War. Martin Freeman,
a free black, was born in 1826 in Rutland, Vermont. After receiving
tutelage from a local pastor, he attended Middlebury College in
Vermont, one of
the first blacks to do so.
His classmates viewed him as
very friendly, yet very serious, very strict, and a bit aloof. He
first to class and left last, and he was much interested in the library. He in fact graduated at the top of
his class and, thus delivered the salutatory address in Latin. However, lest the town’s citizens assume
mistakenly that Freeman did not speak English well, Freeman gave an
oration in English.
graduation, Freeman’s white classmates received offers to study law
and medicine, or to enter the ministry, or to teach.
Freeman received no such offers. Disheartened, he accepted a teaching
position in 1850 at Avery College near Pittsburgh,
to educate free
was named president of the college in 1856.
the Civil War, Freeman became active in the African
and moved to Liberia in September 1864. He continued his work as a
professor at Liberia College, being named as president of that college
before his death in 1889.
his death, his wife and two sons returned to Pittsburgh. Little is known of their lives, except that
his sons embodied Freeman’s greatest fear for black men in America. One worked as a janitor, the other as a
Joe Freeman and a Pogrom in Ukraine. In his
memoirs Joe Freeman recalled a traumatic boyhood incident which had
shortly after a pogrom of the Jewish population of a
than a week later a bearded peasant came into my mother’s
store drunk. He asked for tobacco in a voice that frightened me,
and my mother
handed him a package.
not going to pay you,’ he said. ‘You filthy Jews get
too much money.’‘
you can’t have the tobacco.’
peasant took a clasp
knife from his pocket. He opened the long blade and brandished it at my
‘I’ll kill you,’ he growled. Then he walked over to me and brandished
over my head. ‘We’ll have a nice little pogrom. We’ll kill all the
in this goddam town.’
was terrified and clung to my mother’s skirt. She held
me tightly to her and I saw the tears run down her cheeks.
door creaked. I
saw it open. Our clerk came in. He seized the drunk by the collar and threw
him into the street. The man rolled head
down into the sewer-ditch. A policeman
came running, dragged the peasant to his feet and lugged him into a
carriage. I felt sorry for the peasant
and felt guilty because I felt sorry.”
Select Freeman Names
- Martin Freeman was the first black
president of an American college. During
the Civil War he became active in the African emigration movement and departed for
Liberia in 1864.
- Joe Freeman who fled Russia with his Jewish parents for New York in 1904 was an American writer
and magazine editor, founder of the Partisan
- Bud Freeman was a tenor saxophonist who pioneered the
Chicago style of jazz in the 1930’s.
- John Freeman was a Labour MP in the
1950’s and a British TV presenter in the 1960’s, best known for his Face to Face interviews.
- Morgan Freeman is an acclaimed African American actor and producer.
- Cathy Freeman, from Aborigine roots, is the Australian
sprinter who won the women’s 400 meters in the 2000 Olympics.
Select Freeman Numbers Today
- 36,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 59,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
- 29,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
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