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Martha Freeman

Martha Freeman

photo of martha freeman
Martha Freeman, by her own account born as an enslaved person, became a servant in Martha Berry's home and an influential person in the life of Miss Berry, her family, and students at the Berry schools. After the death of her husband Enoch Freeman, a carriage driver for the Berry family, Martha Freeman moved to a cottage at Oak Hill, the Berry family home. After Martha Berry died in 1942, Martha Freeman continued to live in the cottage until she died in 1951. She is buried near the college chapel.

Use of the term "Aunt" and "Auntie"

In Berry documentation and reminiscences, Martha Freeman is often referred to as "Aunt Martha." Southern whites, especially, used the "aunt" or "auntie" (or "uncle") to refer to elder African Americans. In her blog post "Not Your Auntie" poet and essayist Stacie Evans explains "Calling Black women 'Auntie' served multiple purposes. It gave 'polite' white people something to say instead of 'Miss,' 'Mrs.,' or 'Ma’am,' terms of respect that weren’t offered to Black women. Plenty of white folks felt no need to bother with such niceties, were entirely comfortable calling women 'girl,' no matter the age or standing of the 'girl' in question. 'Auntie,' then, allowed 'good' white folks to pretend to be less offensive. It couched their racism in gentle, familial terms, as if they shared kinship with whichever Black woman they were diminishing. At the same time, the Black woman so addressed knew exactly where she stood with that white person."

When quoting from documents, we'll transcribe them as written. But in new work, we'll always use Martha Freeman's proper name.

Biographical Sketch

Here are the few facts we have been able to gather about Martha Freeman from census records and other documents. Although documentation is sparse, there is significant evidence that Martha Freeman was an important figure in the history of the Berry family, the Berry Schools, and Berry College.

The earliest source that gives reliable information about Martha Freeman is the 1900 US Census, which lists her and three other Black men and women as servants in the home of Thomas Berry.[1] This is actually Mrs. Thomas Berry, Frances Rhea Berry. Thomas Berry died in 1887. Thomas and Frances’s daughters Martha, Laura, and Frances, as well as their son Thomas, are also enumerated as members of the household in Rome’s 919th Militia District. In this Census, Martha Freeman is listed as age 45, born in Georgia in May 1855. Described by the census enumerator as a “house girl,” Martha Freeman cannot read or write, is the mother of seven children, two of whom are living, and a widow who was married for 20 years.

A record that appears to relate to this Martha Freeman is a listing in the 1880 US Census for Enoch Freeman and his wife Martha[2]. Enoch Freeman, 45 (therefore born in about 1835), works on a farm, is able to read and write, and was born in Georgia. This Martha Freeman is a 40-year-old laundress (approximate birth year of 1840), unable to read or write, born in Georgia. The couple lives in Rome’s 919th Militia District, Rome city.

Other census records provide more details. In 1910 Martha Freeman is a 68-year-old widowed servant in the home of Frances Berry (Martha Berry’s mother), a cook who can neither read nor write.[3] In 1920[4] most of the details are the same, but her age is given as 68, yielding an approximate birth date of 1852. In 1930[5], Martha Freeman is listed as a widowed 85 year-old (born about 1845) retired servant in the home of Martha Berry, at the Martha Berry School for Boys, age 20 at her first marriage. Martha Freeman is not included in the 1940 census enumeration of the Berry Schools. In the 1950 census[6], Martha Freeman is head of household, a widow age 109. She is unaccountably enumerated as white.

Martha Berry’s sister Frances Berry Bonnyman wrote about Martha Freeman that she “was not one of my father’s slaves … she was grown, perhaps in her late teens, or early twenties, when set free. She used to tell us she was grown when the ‘Surrender’ came.”[7] Berry graduate Geneva Jarrett, in a 1988 interview stated that “Aunt Martha …said she came to live with the Berrys when Miss Berry was two years old and Aunt Martha was sixteen.”[8] Martha Berry was born in Alabama, but the family moved to Rome shortly after her birth. Her father Thomas Berry first purchased property in Floyd County in July 1866. If Jarrett is correct, Martha Freeman would have begun working for the family around 1867. In the 1870 census, the Berry family is Thomas, a grocer, Fannie (Frances Rhea Berry), Jennie, Mattie (Martha), and Bessie. Servants living with the family are Kittie and Mary Edwards, along with two young children, Georgia and Minnie Edwards. Thomas Berry bought the family home, Oak Hill, in July 1871. No servants are shown living with the Berry family in the 1880 census.

Bonnyman provides confirmation that the couple in the 1880 census is likely correct: “Uncle Enoch, the carriage driver, was Aunt Martha’s husband. They lived in a small two-room cabin on what is now a part of the front campus of the Berry School. My father had given this property fronting on the Summerville Road [now the Martha Berry Highway] to Martha Berry and she donated it to the School.” Bonnyman’s account of Martha Freeman’s children is at least partially consistent with the 1900 census: “Her daughter, Frances, died in child-birth, as did the child. She had been named for my mother. One son, Burrell, ran away from home and was murdered on a railway job in Alabama. Simon, the eldest son, was a house-boy for some time at Oak Hill. Upon a recommendation from my mother, he secured a good job as a butler in Chattanooga.” After Enoch Freeman’s death “She moved into what had been the ‘Schoolhouse' … there she lived until her death.”

[1] U.S. Census Bureau. 1900. “1900 United States Federal Census. Rome, Floyd, Georgia; Page 9; Enumeration District 0117.”

[2] U.S. Census Bureau. 1880. “1880 United States Federal Census. Rome, Floyd, Georgia; Roll 146; Page 121B; Enumeration District 062.”

[3] U.S. Census Bureau. 1910. “1910 United States Federal Census. Glenwood, Floyd, Georgia; Roll T624_187; Page 4A; Enumeration District 0073.”

[4] U.S. Census Bureau. 1920. “1920 United States Federal Census. Glenwood, Floyd, Georgia; Roll T625_257; Page 4A; Enumeration District 100.”

[5] U.S. Census Bureau. 1930. “1930 United States Federal Census. Glenwood, Floyd, Georgia; Page 2A; Enumeration District 0038.”

[6]U.S. Census Bureau. 1950. “1950 United States Federal Census. Glenwood, Floyd, Georgia.”

[7] Bonnyman, Frances Berry. 1956. “Aunt Marthe.” In Paper for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, May 16.

[8] Jarrett, Geneva. 1988. Oral History Interview. Berry College.

Family History

We know very little about Martha Freeman's family:

  • We do not know Martha Freeman's birth name or marriage date.
  • All US Census records indicate that Martha Freeman and her parents were born in Georgia.
  • Many sources refer to her husband, Enoch Freeman, carriage driver at Oak Hill. Enoch Freeman died before 1900, as Martha Freeman is listed as a widow in the 1900 US Census.
  • Daughter Frances and sons Simon and Burrell are mentioned in the Memoirs of Frances Berry Bonnyman.
  • The Rome News Tribune, reporting May 16, 1951, on Martha Freeman's funeral, states that "A great-grandniece, Carry King, of Detroit, survives the beloved campus figure." Several women with matching or similar names have been located living in Detroit around that time, but nothing definitive has been established.