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Martha Freeman was a domestic worker employed by Martha Berry and her family from the early 1880's until her death in 1951. Her cooking skills were top of the line. Most of her skills she taught to some of the Berry students. Martha Freeman was well over a hundred years old when she died. During her time at Berry as a caretaker of Oak Hill she became close to the Berry family.


Martha Pearl Freeman was born during the early 1840's. While it is unknown if she was a slave, a freed slave before the Civil War, or emancipated afterwards, she was unlikely to have ever been owned by Martha Berry's father, Thomas Berry. Following the Civil War, it was discouraged to continue having the ex-slaves working for the same plantation owner. (Bonnyman) She was married to the Berry coachman, Enoch Freeman, who predeceased her by nearly sixty years. Once Martha Berry founded the Berry Schools, Aunt Martha Freeman was one of the first teachers. She taught her earliest students cooking skills and even shared some of her recipes; some of these recipes are still used today. (Bonnyman) She is thought to have been extremely close to both Martha Berry and the Berry Schools since she had been the caretaker for ‍Martha Berry during her teenage years until her death in the 1940's‍. In addition, Martha Freeman also had connections with the Ford family. This family loved Martha Freeman's cooking; this fact is evident in a 1938 correspondence letter where Henry Ford requested Freeman's recipe for Greens. (Ford) Furthermore, Henry Ford also fixed one of Freeman's clocks after noticing that it was broken. Afterwards, Martha Freeman showed the clock to most of the guests that came to visit her since she was apparently proud to have Henry Ford fix her clock. To her, the clock was her only way of keeping time, as she had lost her sight during old age and was only able to hear the clicks of the pendulum. (Bonnyman)

Frances Berry Bonnyman, sister to Martha Berry, described Martha Freeman's domestic life as "sad." In addition to her husband dying many decades before her, her children were also a source of pain. Freeman's daughter died in childbirth along with her grandchild. One of her son's, Burrell, ran away from the Freeman home and was murdered in Alabama on a railway job. Her eldest son, Simon, worked as a "house boy" at Oak Hill, until he received a job as a butler in Chattanooga and rarely came to see his mother after his father died in the 1890's. (Bonnyman) However, according to Bonnyman's letter, the Berry family did try to care for her, taking her to the doctor when she was sick and giving her dentures once her teeth had to be removed. It is reported that she prized the dentures, as they were uncommon at the time and were relatively expensive.

After her death, the funeral was held at the Mount Berry Chapel and presided over by Rev. Louie D. Newton of Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta. (Aunt Martha Freeman Dies) For a time, the cottage that Martha freeman lived in was used by a small handful of students who maintained the house, until 2001 when the cottage reopened as part of the Oak Hill tour. (Burns) The clock that Henry Ford fixed currently remains at the Oak Hill Museum as part of the tour through the house. In the 2012 Mountain Day events, the Old Mill sold corn meal with a label briefly describing Aunt Martha and giving her recipe for cornbread, both of which were adapted from the Daughters of Berry Recipe Book. ("Aunt Martha")


Martha Freeman is the center of several controversies and folklore around the Berry campus. First, many people are under the impression that she was related to Thomas Freeman, who founded the settlement of Freemantown, which was sold to Berry during the 1920's. However, there is no evidence to support that she was related to anyone at the settlement. Also,there is some debate whether her marriage to the coachman, Enoch Freeman, was a legitimate marriage since there is no evidence that they were legally married, other than oral history.

However, the largest and most prominent concern today is Martha Freeman's grave location. Martha Freeman had requested to be buried next to Martha Berry's mother; however in the 1940's and 50's before the integration of the cemeteries, this request was impossible to fulfill. Instead, she is buried next to Martha Berry at the Mount Berry Chapel. (Bonnyman)

Works Cited

"Aunt Martha." Daughters of Berry Recipe Book. N.p.: n.p., 1957. 6-9. Print.

"Aunt Martha Freeman Dies." Mount Berry News 19 May 1951: 1. Print.

Bonnyman, Frances Berry. Letter to United Daughters of the Confederacy. 16 May 1956. United Daughters of the Confederacy. TS. Berry Archives. Memorial Library, Berry College.

Burns, Darla, ed. "The Other Martha Remembered." Rome News-Tribune 22 Feb. 2001: 12. Print.

Ford, Henry. Letter to Martha Berry. Apr. 1938. MS. N.p.