The Freedman

Black bronze statue of African American man, shackles broken, sitting on tree stump
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Black bronze statue of African American man, shackles broken, sitting on tree stump




John Quincy Adams Ward
American, 1830–1910

About this artwork

A leader among the nation’s second generation of sculptors, John Quincy Adams Ward played a significant role in elevating the medium in the United States, calling for a new realism to address moral concerns. Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s 1862–63 Emancipation Proclamation, The Freedman reflects not only Ward’s aspiration to create relevant statements on pressing issues of the day but also his abolitionist sentiments. Using antiquity as his inspiration, he depicted a seminude man seated on a tree stump who has just been liberated from the shackles that bound him to slavery. Ward broke artistic convention by showing the former slave as master of his own destiny, not a man reliant on white men for freedom. The vestiges of chains, potent symbols of his bondage, dangle from both wrists, and his muscular body, turned to look over his shoulder, is contained within a formal, triangular composition. The Freedman was modeled from life and is generally considered the first and most accurate sculptural representation of an African American. Shortly after The Freedman was first exhibited in 1863, art critic James Jackson Jarves effectively summarized the work’s power: “We have seen nothing in our sculpture more soul-lifting or more comprehensively eloquent. It tells in one word the whole sad story of slavery and the bright story of emancipation.”

On View

American Art, Gallery 171


John Quincy Adams Ward


The Freedman


United States






Signed: "J.Q.A. Ward. Scp. 1863"


49.9 × 40 × 23.9 cm (19 5/8 × 15 3/4 × 9 3/8 in.)

Credit Line

Roger McCormick Endowment

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .


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