Little Liberia (known as Ethiope, then Liberia in the 1800s) was a seafaring community of free people of color. It boasted a luxurious seaside resort hotel for wealthy Blacks (cited in a letter to Frederick Douglass), Bridgeport’s first free lending library, a school for colored children, businesses, fraternal organizations, and churches. Of about 36 structures that comprised Little Liberia, only the Freeman Houses survive on original foundations. Mary Freeman (1815–1883) and Eliza Freeman (1805- 1862) were accomplished business women. When Mary Freeman died, the only Bridgeporter of greater wealth was legendary showman P.T. Barnum. The Freeman Houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places for their significance to African Americans and Women.

“In Bridgeport the blacks may reign. This, then, is the spot for respectable colored people. Let them never play the tail part anywhere, when they can play the head.”
– Correspondent, Ethiop
Frederick Douglass’ Paper, September 1, 1854

Research suggests that Little Liberia’s African and Native American residents sought to establish a free city for people of color - on American soil - during slavery in Connecticut and the US. Men brought their earnings home and then returned to sea. Many women owned or operated family business ventures; developed, owned and maintained property; and exercised leadership skills – at a time when women in the United States didn’t even have the right to vote. Little Liberia’s residents were outspoken advocates for human rights; and like-minded free people of color from around the country, indeed around the Atlantic, joined this 1800s community, and invested here.

Black & Native American Placemaking in the 19th Century

Bridgeport’s African and Native American seamen whaled, harvested oysters, sailed Caribbean packet vessels, worked the China trade, and even fought pirates! Then they returned to their secluded “garden” community on Bridgeport Harbor. The Long Island Sound provided food, a hallowed inlet for full immersion baptisms - and according to Shinnecock oral tradition, sheltered waters for night time canoe crossings on the Underground

Enter your email address to receive alerts and other updates from the Freeman Center.

Website by Iron Web Designs