A Tale of Two Sisters


To tell the story of Little Liberia we first have to introduce the two women, Mary and Eliza Freeman, whose architectural legacies have enabled the memory of this historic place to survive into the 21st century. Together, their stories and homes highlight little Liberia’s legacies of freedom, entrepreneurship, and social innovation.

Born in Derby, Connecticut; Eliza (1805-1862) and Mary (1815-1883) Freeman were sisters and free women of mixed ancestry (African American & Paugussett) who proudly made Bridgeport’s “Liberia” their home. Joel Freeman was their brother. In 1848, the sisters purchased adjoining lots on Main Street, where they built two modest sized, wood-frame houses. Coincidently the houses were constructed in the same year Connecticut ended slavery.

Little Liberia’s development boom owes a lot to the Freeman family, and Mary and Eliza in particular. The eastern block of Main Street was largely undeveloped until the Freeman sisters arrived followed by the Duncan House Hotel, which attracted a cosmopolitan array of patrons from throughout the Black Atlantic world.

Both sisters developed, bought & sold real estate; managed property; and financed home purchases before women had the right to vote! At one time Mary worked in Manhattan as a hotel chef and Eliza in the home of a local widow. When Mary Freeman died the only Bridgeporter of greater wealth was P.T. Barnum.

“And such is the horrible idea that I entertain respecting a life of servitude, that if I conceived of there being no possibility of my rising above the condition of a servant, I would gladly hail death as a welcome messenger. O, horrible idea, indeed! to possess noble souls aspiring after high and honorable acquirements, yet confined by the chains of ignorance and poverty to lives of continual drudgery and toil. Neither do I know of any who have enriched themselves by spending their lives as house-domestics, washing windows, shaking carpets, brushing boots, or tending upon gentlemen’s tables.”

– Maria W. Miller, 18321

Maria W. Miller Stewart (1803-1880) was a free Black woman born in Hartford, CT. Orphaned at age five and twice widowed, she endured a life of servitude in Boston. Stewart became a journalist, public speaker, abolitionist and advocate for Black women’s rights.

A speech delivered at Franklin Hall, Boston, September 21, 1832. The full text appears in Marilyn Richardson, Maria W. Stewart: America’s First Black Woman Political Writer (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 45-49.