This Place in History: Martin Henry Freeman

Vermont History


At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Rutland, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re on the site of what was the Eastern Rutland Congregational Church. It was an institution that a man named Martin Henry Freeman attended in the early 19th Century,” began Perkins.

“What makes Martin Henry Freeman stand out? First of all, he was an African American living in Rutland. He was highly educated. He went to Middlebury College, graduated from there and then ultimately became president of Allegheny Institute, which is now Avery College. So he was the first African American president of a college in the United States. We’re talking 1851 when this took place.”

“He was very much involved in the Abolitionist Movement of the time. Vermont was certainly a hotbed of abolitionism, but it was a certain brand of abolitionism. The idea behind this was that slavery should end. All abolitionists believe that. But, there was a group that felt that once slavery was ended, every one of African descent should then be sent back to Africa. And that’s what is interesting with Martin Freeman, very highly educated and an incredible person in his academic pursuits. He was part of this academic thought; and so he ended the rest of his academic career in Monrovia, Liberia.”

“Liberia was a country that was created by abolitionists from the United States so that previously enslaved African Americans could then be resettled in Africa. Looking back on this, it didn’t work out so well, but it was one of those movements that Freeman felt strongly about it.”

“He celebrated the black mind and the black body. He was one of the first people to write you didn’t need to straighten your hair or lighten your skin to be proud of how you look. But, then he also wrote that people of African descent should move back to Africa and he did so himself.”

“He headed up the public university in Monrovia. He was unhealthy once he got there and he did die a few years after arriving in Liberia and he’s buried there. But, he was born and raised right here in Rutland,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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