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A freedman or freedwoman is a formerly enslaved person who has been released from slavery, usually by legal means. Historically, slaves were freed by manumission (granted freedom by their owners), emancipation (granted freedom as part of a larger group), or self-purchase. A fugitive slave is a person who escaped enslavement by fleeing.


Ancient Rome

Cinerary urn for the freedman Tiberius Claudius Chryseros and two women, probably his wife and daughter DM Tiberius Claudius Chryseros.jpg
Cinerary urn for the freedman Tiberius Claudius Chryseros and two women, probably his wife and daughter

Rome differed from Greek city-states in allowing freed slaves to become plebeian citizens. [1] The act of freeing a slave was called manumissio, from manus, "hand" (in the sense of holding or possessing something), and missio, the act of releasing. After manumission, a slave who had belonged to a Roman citizen enjoyed not only passive freedom from ownership, but active political freedom (libertas), including the right to vote. [2] A slave who had acquired libertas was known as a libertus ("freed person", feminine liberta) in relation to his former master, who was called his or her patron (patronus).

As a social class, freed slaves were liberti, though later Latin texts used the terms libertus and libertini interchangeably. [3] Libertini were not entitled to hold public office or state priesthoods, nor could they achieve legitimate senatorial rank. During the early Empire, however, freedmen held key positions in the government bureaucracy, so much so that Hadrian limited their participation by law. [4] Any future children of a freedman would be born free, with full rights of citizenship.

The Claudian Civil Service set a precedent whereby freedmen could be used as civil servants in the Roman bureaucracy. In addition, Claudius passed legislation concerning slaves, including a law stating that sick slaves abandoned by their owners became freedmen if they recovered. The emperor was criticized for using freedmen in the Imperial Courts.

Some freedmen enjoyed enormous success and became quite wealthy. The brothers who owned House of the Vettii, one of the biggest and most magnificent houses in Pompeii, are thought to have been freedmen. A freedman who became rich and influential might still be looked down on by the traditional aristocracy as a vulgar nouveau riche . Trimalchio, a character in the Satyricon of Petronius, is a caricature of such a freedman.


Arab-Muslim and North African slavery

Arab-Muslim slave traders and their African captives in the Sahara, 19th century. Arabslavers.jpg
Arab-Muslim slave traders and their African captives in the Sahara, 19th century.

The term "Eastern slave trade" refers to the Arab slave trade that supplied the early Muslim conquests throughout the Arab-Muslim world from the 7th to the 20th centuries, [5] [6] [7] peaking in the 18th and 19th centuries. This term, which covers the Arab-Muslim slave trade, is symmetrical with the term "Western slave trade", which refers to the triangular trade on the Western coasts of Africa that supplied the European colonization of the Americas, and which includes the Atlantic slave trade. [8]

The slaves of the Eastern slave trade came mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa, Northwestern Africa, Southern Europe, Slavic countries, the Caucasus, and the Indian subcontinent, and were imported by the Arab-Muslim slave traders into the Middle East and North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the islands of the Indian Ocean. [5] For centuries, Arab-Muslim slave traders took and transported an estimated 10 to 15 million native Africans to slavery throughout the Arab-Muslim world. They also enslaved Europeans (known as Saqaliba ), as well as Caucasian and Turkic peoples, from coastal areas of the Mediterranean Region, the Balkans, Central Asia, and the Eurasian steppes. [7] [9] [10]

The offspring of Mamluks were regarded as Muslim freedmen, and hence excluded from the Arab-Muslim slave trade; they were known as the awlād al-nās ("sons of respectable people"), who either fulfilled scribal and administrative functions or served as commanders of the non-Mamluk ḥalqa troops, serving the ruling Arab and Ottoman dynasties in the Muslim world. [7]

United States

Freedman with an old horn used to call slaves photographed in Texas, 1939 Old Freedman with old slave horn Texas 1939.jpg
Freedman with an old horn used to call slaves photographed in Texas, 1939

In the United States, the terms "freedmen" and "freedwomen" refer chiefly to former African slaves emancipated during and after the American Civil War by the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment. African slaves freed before the war (usually by individual manumissions, often in wills) were generally referred to as "free Negroes" or "free Blacks". In addition, there was a population of African Americans born free.

The great majority of families of free African people recorded in the U.S. census in the Upper South in the first two decades after the Revolutionary War have been found to have descended from unions between European American women (indentured servants or free) and African men (whether indentured servants, slave or free) in colonial Virginia. According to the legal principle of partus sequitur ventrem , in the slave colonies (later states) children were born into the social status of their mothers; thus, mixed-race children of white women were born free. [11] Such free families of color tended to migrate to the frontier of Virginia and other Upper South colonies, and then west into Kentucky, the future West Virginia, and Tennessee. [11] In addition, during the first two decades after the Revolution, slaveholders freed thousands of slaves in the Upper South, inspired by revolutionary ideals. Most Northern states abolished slavery, some on a gradual basis.

In Louisiana and other areas of the former New France, free African people were classified in French as gens de couleur libres. They were generally born to African or mixed-race mothers and European American fathers of ethnic French or other European ancestry. The fathers sometimes freed their children and sexual partners, leading to the growth of the community of Creoles of color, or free people of color. New Orleans had the largest community of free people of color, well-established before the U.S. acquired Louisiana. The French and Spanish colonial rulers had given the free people of color more rights than most free Black people had in the American South.

In addition, there were sizable communities of free African people in French Caribbean colonies, such as Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and Guadeloupe. Due to the violence of the Haitian Revolution, many free people of color, who were originally part of the revolution, fled the island as refugees after being attacked by slave rebels, particularly in the north of the island. Some went first to Cuba, from where they immigrated to New Orleans in 1808 and 1809 after being expelled when Napoleon invaded Spanish territory in Europe. Many brought slaves with them. Their numbers strengthened the French-speaking community of enslaved African peoples, as well as the free people of color. Other refugees from Saint-Domingue settled in Charleston, Savannah, and New York.


The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 declared all enslaved persons in the Confederacy—states in rebellion and not under the control of the Union—to be permanently free. It did not end slavery in the four border states that had stayed in the Union. African slavery elsewhere was abolished by state action or with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in December 1865. The Civil Rights Act of 1866, passed over the veto of President Andrew Johnson, the formerly enslaved full citizenship in the United States, though this did not guarantee them voting rights. The Fourteenth Amendment made "All persons born or naturalized in the United States" citizens of the United States. The Fifteenth Amendment gave voting rights to all adult males; only adult males had the franchise among European Americans. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments are known as the "Civil War Amendments" [12] or the "Reconstruction Amendments".

To help freedmen transition from slavery to freedom, including a free labor market, President Abraham Lincoln created the Freedmen's Bureau, which assigned agents throughout the former Confederate states. The Bureau also founded schools to educate freedmen, both adults and children; helped freedmen negotiate labor contracts; and tried to minimize violence against freedmen. The era of Reconstruction was an attempt to establish new governments in the former Confederacy and to bring freedmen into society as voting citizens. Northern church bodies, such as the American Missionary Association and the Free Will Baptists, sent teachers to the South to assist in educating freedmen and their children, and eventually established several colleges for higher education. U.S. Army occupation soldiers were stationed throughout the South via military districts enacted by the Reconstruction Acts; they protected freedmen in voting polls and public facilities from violence and intimidation by white Southerners, which were common throughout the region.

Native American Freedmen

The Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, and Creek Nation were among those Native American tribes that held enslaved Africans before and during the American Civil War. [13] They supported the Confederacy during the war, supplying some warriors in the West, as they were promised their own state if the Confederacy won. After the end of the war, the U.S. required these tribes to make new peace treaties, and to emancipate their African slaves. They were required to offer full citizenship in their tribes to those freedmen who wanted to stay with the tribes. Numerous families had intermarried by that time or had other personal ties. If freedmen left the tribes, they would become U.S. citizens.

Cherokee Freedmen

In the late 20th century, the Cherokee Nation voted for restrictions on membership to only those descendants of people listed as "Cherokee by blood" on the Dawes Rolls of the early 20th century, a decision that excluded most Cherokee Freedmen (by that time this term referred to descendants of the original group). In addition to arguing that the post-Civil War treaties gave them citizenship, the freedmen have argued that the Dawes Rolls were often inaccurate, recording as freedmen even those individuals who had partial Cherokee ancestry and were considered Cherokee by blood. The Choctaw freedmen and Creek freedmen have similarly struggled with their respective tribes over the terms of citizenship in contemporary times. The tribes have wanted to limit those who can benefit from tribal citizenship, in an era in which gaming casinos are yielding considerable revenues for members. The majority of members of the tribes have voted to limit membership. Descendants of freedmen, however, maintain that their rights to citizenship granted under the post-Civil War treaties should be restored. In 2017, the Cherokee freedmen were granted citizenship again in the tribe. [14] [15] [16]


Many convicted people from the United Kingdom were sentenced to be transported to Australia between 1788 and 1868. Also, many came from the United Kingdom and Europe voluntarily, planning to settle in Australia, some as pastors and missionaries, others seeking to make a living by trade or farming. When convicts finished their sentence, they were freed and referred to as "freedmen" or "freed men". However, many of these who were freed wanted to claim the label "free men". But those who had come freely to Australia wanted to reserve the label "free men" exclusively for themselves, distinguishing themselves above those who had been "freed". [17]

See also

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  1. "Slaves & Freemen". PBS .
  2. Millar, Fergus (1998–2002). The Crowd in Rome in the Late Republic. University of Michigan. pp. 23 & 209.
  3. Mouritsen, Henrik (2011). The Freedman in the Roman World. Cambridge University Press. p. 36.
  4. Berger, Adolf (1953). libertinus, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law. American Philological Society. p. 564.
  5. 1 2 La Rue, George M. (17 August 2023). "Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades". Oxford Bibliographies Online . Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/OBO/9780199846733-0051 . Retrieved 6 February 2024.
  6. Freamon, Bernard K. (2019). "The "Mamluk/Ghulam Phenomenon" – Slave Sultans, Soldiers, Eunuchs, and Concubines". In Freamon, Bernard K. (ed.). Possessed by the Right Hand: The Problem of Slavery in Islamic Law and Muslim Cultures. Studies in Global Slavery. Vol. 8. Leiden: Brill Publishers. pp. 219–244. doi:10.1163/9789004398795_006. ISBN   978-90-04-36481-3. S2CID   191690007. Ibn Khaldun argued that in the midst of the decadence that became the hallmark of the later Abbasid Caliphate, providence restored the "glory and the unity" of the Islamic faith by sending the Mamluks: "loyal helpers, who were brought from the House of War to the House of Islam under the rule of slavery, which hides in itself a divine blessing." His expression of the idea that slavery, considered to be a degrading social condition to be avoided at all costs, might contain "a divine blessing", was the most articulate expression of Muslim thinking on slavery since the early days of Islam. Ibn Khaldun's general observation about the paradoxical nature of slavery brings to mind Hegel's reflections on the subject some five hundred years later. The great philosopher observed that, in many instances, it is the slave who ultimately gains the independent consciousness and power to become the actual master of his or her owner. The Mamluk/Ghulam Phenomenon is a good historical example of this paradox.
  7. 1 2 3 Stowasser, Karl (1984). "Manners and Customs at the Mamluk Court". Muqarnas . Leiden: Brill Publishers. 2 (The Art of the Mamluks): 13–20. doi:10.2307/1523052. ISSN   0732-2992. JSTOR   1523052. S2CID   191377149. The Mamluk slave warriors, with an empire extending from Libya to the Euphrates, from Cilicia to the Arabian Sea and the Sudan, remained for the next two hundred years the most formidable power of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean – champions of Sunni orthodoxy, guardians of Islam's holy places, their capital, Cairo, the seat of the Sunni caliph and a magnet for scholars, artists, and craftsmen uprooted by the Mongol upheaval in the East or drawn to it from all parts of the Muslim world by its wealth and prestige. Under their rule, Egypt passed through a period of prosperity and brilliance unparalleled since the days of the Ptolemies. [...] They ruled as a military aristocracy, aloof and almost totally isolated from the native population, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, and their ranks had to be replenished in each generation through fresh imports of slaves from abroad. Only those who had grown up outside Muslim territory and who entered as slaves in the service either of the sultan himself or of one of the Mamluk emirs were eligible for membership and careers within their closed military caste. The offspring of Mamluks were free-born Muslims and hence excluded from the system: they became the awlād al-nās, the "sons of respectable people", who either fulfilled scribal and administrative functions or served as commanders of the non-Mamluk ḥalqa troops. Some two thousand slaves were imported annually: Qipchaq, Azeris, Uzbec Turks, Mongols, Avars, Circassians, Georgians, Armenians, Greeks, Bulgars, Albanians, Serbs, Hungarians.
  8. Green, Toby (2012). "Part Two: Creolisation and Slavery – The Early Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from Western Africa". The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300–1589. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 177–207. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139016407.011. ISBN   978-1-107-01436-7. LCCN   2011015312.
  9. Levanoni, Amalia (2010). "PART II: EGYPT AND SYRIA (ELEVENTH CENTURY UNTIL THE OTTOMAN CONQUEST) – The Mamlūks in Egypt and Syria: the Turkish Mamlūk sultanate (648–784/1250–1382) and the Circassian Mamlūk sultanate (784–923/1382–1517)". In Fierro, Maribel (ed.). The New Cambridge History of Islam, Volume 2: The Western Islamic World, Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 237–284. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521839570.010. ISBN   978-1-139-05615-1. The Arabic term mamlūk literally means 'owned' or 'slave', and was used for the White Turkish slaves of Pagan origins, purchased from Central Asia and the Eurasian steppes by Muslim rulers to serve as soldiers in their armies. Mamlūk units formed an integral part of Muslim armies from the third/ninth century, and Mamlūk involvement in government became an increasingly familiar occurrence in the medieval Middle East. The road to absolute rule lay open before them in Egypt when the Mamlūk establishment gained military and political domination during the reign of the Ayyūbid ruler of Egypt, al-Ṣāliḥ Ayyūb (r. 637–47/1240–9).
  10. "Warrior kings: A look at the history of the Mamluks". The Report – Egypt 2012: The Guide. Oxford Business Group. 2012. pp. 332–334. Archived from the original on 25 September 2020. Retrieved 1 March 2021. The Mamluks, who descended from non-Arab slaves who were naturalised to serve and fight for ruling Arab dynasties, are revered as some of the greatest warriors the world has ever known. Although the word mamluk translates as "one who is owned", the Mamluk soldiers proved otherwise, gaining a powerful military standing in various Muslim societies, particularly in Egypt. They would also go on to hold political power for several centuries during a period known as the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt. [...] Before the Mamluks rose to power, there was a long history of slave soldiers in the Middle East, with many recruited into Arab armies by the Abbasid rulers of Baghdad in the ninth century. The tradition was continued by the dynasties that followed them, including the Fatimids and Ayyubids (it was the Fatimids who built the foundations of what is now Islamic Cairo). For centuries, the rulers of the Arab world recruited men from the lands of the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is hard to discern the precise ethnic background of the Mamluks, given that they came from a number of ethnically mixed regions, but most are thought to have been Turkic (mainly Kipchak and Cuman) or from the Caucasus (predominantly Circassian, but also Armenian and Georgian). The Mamluks were recruited forcibly to reinforce the armies of Arab rulers. As outsiders, they had no local loyalties, and would thus fight for whoever owned them, not unlike mercenaries. Furthermore, the Turks and Circassians had a ferocious reputation as warriors. The slaves were either purchased or abducted as boys, around the age of 13, and brought to the cities, most notably to Cairo and its Citadel. Here they would be converted to Islam and would be put through a rigorous military training regime that focused particularly on horsemanship. A code of behaviour not too dissimilar to that of the European knights' Code of Chivalry was also inculcated and was known as Furusiyya . As in many military establishments to this day the authorities sought to instil an esprit de corps and a sense of duty among the young men. The Mamluks would have to live separately from the local populations in their garrisons, which included the Citadel and Rhoda Island, also in Cairo.
  11. 1 2 Heinegg, Paul (1995–2005). Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware.
  12. Constitution Annotated.
  13. Walker, Mark; Cameron, Chris (October 8, 2021). "After Denying Care to African Natives, Indian Health Service Reverses Policy". The New York Times.
  14. "Cherokee Nation v. Raymond Nash, et al. and Marilyn Vann, et al. and Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior ruling, August 30, 2017".
  15. "Judge Rules That Cherokee Freedmen Have Right To Tribal Citizenship". npr. 2017-08-31. Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  16. "Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree issues statement on Freedmen ruling, August 31, 2017 (Accessible in PDF format as of September 8, 2017" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 16, 2018. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
  17. pp. 89-95. Laugesen, Amanda. Convict words: Language in early colonial Australia. Oxford University Press, USA, 2002.