An old name that stretches as far back as the Middle Ages.
Dating from at least the Middle Ages, it is widely believed that it was historically given to a person who was not a ‘serf’ (a slave) and were therefore quite literally ‘a free man’.
In 1881, there were 19,124 people with the surname in Great Britain, ranking the surname as the 197th most common surname. Current estimates suggest that it hasn’t changed very much at all, with 24,892 (an increase of just over 5,000), placing it as the 208th most common surname. Over in the USA, there’s an estimated 162,686 people with the surname.
1891 statistics from Ancestry.co.uk show that the distribution of the surname gave a few concentration areas in England.
Freeman in Cambridgeshire
The most recent Freeman ancestor in my tree was Mary Ann Freeman, born in Prickwillow – a village close to Ely, in Cambridgeshire in 1837. She was the oldest of ten children of John Freeman and his wife Mary Grey.
Mary Ann married Edward Moden, an agricultural worker of Coveney. Together they had six children, the last of which (my ancestor) was born four months after Edward’s death in 1867. Mary Ann, with a large but young family, remained widowed until 1871 when she re-married to David Seymour in Coveney. A few months later, the family had moved to Green’s Farm in Ely, and they welcomed their first child together, followed in 1874 by their last child.
Mary Ann’s parents, John and Mary, were from Prickwillow and Ely respectively. John was one of 11 children of John Freeman and his wife Phoebe of Coveney. John (snr) was in turn, one of seven children of William Freeman and his wife Sarah, again of Coveney. Prior to this generation, the family remain a little tricky to locate, with only a few speculative possibilities – but all in Cambridgeshire.
Freeman as a middle name
There are two occasions in my tree, one of which is an ancestor, where the surname has been used as a middle name. Whilst middle names were often the maiden name of the child’s maternal side, which fits for John Freeman Moden, whose mother was the Mary Ann Freeman detailed above. The same cannot be said for John Freeman Dewey.
John Freeman Dewey (b.1856) was illegitimate. Therefore, the use of the name could be a nod to his paternity, like in the case of Sabina Steadman Taylor. Alternatively, the choice of ‘Freeman’ could easily just hark back to the origins of the name – ‘a free man’ (of no master – or father). The identity of John’s father remains, and probably always will, a mystery.