The 2010 U.S. Census recorded 47,937 black Americans with Freeman as their last name. That represented 28% of the total of 169,149 entries.
This article compares census numbers before and after the Civil War. We also look at historic African American people named Freeman in the last three centuries.
We end with a review of early records of black military service in the United States.
Freeman Before The Civil War
The 1850 census was the first to record all free members of households together. Before this, people who were not white were not named in the federal census.
In 1850, there was a box to enter color on the census. There were three categories: white, black, and mulatto. The third term is the language of the time, and I will use mixed in this article.
If you are researching your black Freeman ancestors in census archives, be sure to check the two non-white categories. Do not assume that the people recording the information were always correct.
1850 Federal Census
There were 1,463 people named Freeman who were recorded as black in the 1850 census. 595 were recorded as mixed.
Because they are in the main federal census, we know that they were free citizens.
There was a total of 16,149 free citizens named Freeman that year. There would be one more census in 1860 before the Civil War.
After The Civil War
The 1870 census was the first survey after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. All African Americans were included.
Those who were omitted in 1850 and 1860 because they were enslaved were now recorded.
5,892 people named Freeman were recorded in the 1870 census as black and 1,008 as mixed.
There was a total of 28,274 people with the name.
Freeman In The 1900 And 1940 Census
The mixed category was dropped in 1900, so we just need to look at the black numbers this time.
The 1900 census recorded 12,111 people with the last name Freeman as black within a total of 48,816 that year.
By the way, the mixed category returned in the 1910 and 1920 censuses. It was dropped again in 1930, but replaced with extra categories for colored and non-white in a way that seems confusing now.
This changed again in 1940 and we can simply focus on one black category.
The 1940 census recorded 18,000 people named Freeman as black within a total of 84,908.
Historic Black Figures With The Freeman Surname
Here are some notable African American people in history with Freeman as their last name.
- Born: 1742
- From: Claverack, New York
- Died: 1829
Elizabeth “Bett” Freeman was born into slavery in New York and was sent to Massachusetts as a girl under the ownership of John and Hannah Ashley.
She was a strong-minded young woman. One day, she overheard talk from her white owners about how the new Massachusetts Constitution included the phrase that “all men are born free and equal”.
She went to a progressive young lawyer named Theodore Sedgwick (a future senator and Speaker of the House) . He agreed to represent Bett and another slave named Brom.
The case of “Brom and Bett v Ashley” argued Bett’s observation that the Massachusetts Constitution must prohibit slavery. The Count Court agreed and set Bett and Brom free.
That was the start of the abolition of slavery in the state.
Bett chose the surname of Freeman. She worked for Sedgwick as a governess to his children for many years. She was also known as Mumbett.
Robert Tanner Freeman
- Born: 1846
- From: Washington D.C.
- Died: 1873
Robert’s father was able to purchase his family’s freedom from slavery through carpentry work. When Robert was a teenager, he worked for a dentist in Washington. Robert applied to two dental colleges but was rejected due to his race.
The Harvard School of Dental Medicine accepted his application. When he graduated in 1869, he was the first black American to get a dental degree.
Robert opened a practice in Washington D.C. Unfortunately, the young dentist died four years later from an illness.
But his legacy wasn’t just as a pioneer in dentistry. His grandson was Robert Clifton Weaver, who was the first African American to hold a cabinet position in the White House.
- Born: 1919
- From: Richmond Virginiia
- Died: 2020
Thomas Freeman died in 2020 at the grand age of one hundred. He is indelibly associated with Texas State University which he joined in 1949 to teach philosophy.
This was supposed to be a one-year assignment but the college was so impressed with how he taught debating skills that he hired him as the permanent coach.
His star students included Barbara Jordan, the congresswoman who made one of the great political speeches during Nixon’s impeachment. Freeman gave the eulogy at her funeral.
Freeman was a guest lecturer at Morehouse College where he taught an eighteen-year old Martin Luther King. Dr King approached Freeman many years later to thank him.
You can read his obituary on the TSU website here.
Freeman In Black Military Records
Military records are a rich resource of for family history research. Here are examples of the Freeman surname from three different military services:
- Black civil war sailors
- Buffalo soldiers
- Tuskegee airmen
Black Civil War Sailors
The National Parks Service has a free archive of African American sailors during the Civil War.
The information includes their age, height, rank, occupation, and where and when they enlisted. It also includes every ship that they served on.
You can search the database on the National Parks website.
One of the earliest entries for Freeman was for Wardell Freeman from New York. He enlisted in June 1861 at Philadelpia when he was aged 18.
The record shows that Wardell was assigned on June 1864 to the ship James S. Chambers.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Barber/Wigmaker. His naval rank was Landsman.
“Landsman” was the lowest rank at the time and was given to recruits with little sea experience.
One of the later entries was for a sailor who enlisted at New Bedford in October 1863. Peter was aged 32 and was from New York.
He was assigned to the ship Niagara on September 1865.
His occupation before enlisting was as a Cook/Machinist. His naval rank was Ordinary Seaman.
An ordinary seaman in the Navy is an apprentice who serves on the deck.
Five regiments for black soldiers were formed during the Civil War. They were known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
Their records are part of the national archive of military monthly returns. The information includes the year and place of birth, where they enlisted, their occupation, and their height.
One of the earliest military entries for Freeman was in August 1867. Azariah Freeman was a Corporal in the Tenth Cavalry. He was stationed in August 1867 at Fort Harker, Kansas.
One of the later entries was in June 1915. Warner Freeman was a Corporal in the Tenth Cavalry.
You have to create an account on either website, but you do not need to pay for the Buffalo Soldiers archive.
The Tuskegee Airmen were military personnel who served at the Tuskegee Army Airfield or related programs.
Nearly one thousand black pilots graduated from the Tuskegee Institute. The photograph above (from the Library of Congress) shows a class in session.
They flew single-engine fighter planes or twin-engine bombers. 352 fought in combat.
Eldridge Freeman graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in April 1945. He qualified as a bomber pilot. Eldridge was from Chicago, Illinois.