Mød Elizabeth Freeman, den første slavekvinde, der sagsøger for hendes frihed - og vind

Mød Elizabeth Freeman, den første slavekvinde, der sagsøger for hendes frihed - og vind


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I 1780 ringede proklamationen "alle mænd er frie og lige," fra det centrale torv i den lille by Sheffield i det vestlige Massachusetts. Linjen var fra statens nyligt ratificerede forfatning, læst op for en stolt offentlighed at høre. Amerikas uafhængighedskrig rasede, og ligesom resten af ​​det spirende land blev byen grebet af revolutionær feber.

Men en kvinde, der hørte det, var ikke inspireret - hun var rasende. Elizabeth Freeman, dengang kun kendt som "Bett", var en slavekvinde, der med det samme forstod ironien i erklæringen. Da hun så mændene omkring hende erklære frihed for undertrykkende styre, var det kun en grund til, at hun skulle gøre det samme.

Freeman marcherede med nogle konti med det samme til huset til Theodore Sedgwick, en fremtrædende lokal advokat, og krævede et dramatisk regnskab for hykleriet: hun ville sagsøge staten Massachusetts for hendes frihed.

“Jeg hørte, at papiret læste i går, hvor der står, at alle mænd er født lige, og at hver mand har ret til frihed,” sagde hun, “jeg er ikke en stum kriger; vil loven ikke give mig min frihed? ”

Måske overraskende gik Sedgwick med til at repræsentere hende. Hendes retssag året efter blev det, der er blevet kaldt "århundredets retssag", og det rokkede ikke kun Massachusetts, men hele slaveriinstitutionen.

"Hun var en slags Rosa Parks i sin tid," siger David Levinson, forfatter sammen med Emilie Piper af Et minut en gratis kvinde, en bog om Freeman.

Massachusetts indtog et ulige sted i slaveriets historie. Det var den første koloni, der legaliserede praksis, og dens beboere var aktive i slavehandelen.
Hvad der gjorde det anderledes var imidlertid, at statsretten anerkendte slaver som både ejendom og som personer - hvilket betød, at de kunne retsforfølge de mænd, der ejede dem, hvilket krævede, at de beviste lovligt ejerskab. I 1780 havde næsten 30 slaver slaveret for deres frihed på grundlag af en række forskellige teknikaliteter, såsom et afvist løfte om frihed eller et ulovligt køb.

Freemans tilfælde var imidlertid en anden. Hun søgte ikke sin frihed gennem et smuthul, men tog i stedet hensyn til eksistensen af ​​slaveri, som påvirkede anslået 2,2 procent af Massachusetts ’befolkning.

”Hvis vi kan forestille os denne kvinde, denne slavekvinde, der læser en forfatning og siger: 'Jamen, hvis alle er skabt lige, så inkluderer det også mig', og udfordrer statsregeringen om dette spørgsmål - det var sådan, det tvang Massachusetts -lovgiver til at se længe og hårdt på hele frihedens smitte, ”siger Margaret Washington, lektor i historie ved Cornell University, til PBS.

Rækken af ​​juridiske udfordringer for slaveejere er et bevis på, at en kamp var under opsejling, og at Freeman muligvis ikke havde handlet isoleret. Nogle historikere mener, at hun bevidst blev valgt som en sympatisk test -sag for at afslutte slaveriet i Massachusetts. Ifølge Levinson var Freeman en sygeplejerske og en jordemoder, der var kendt og respekteret i hele området. På grund af sit arbejde rejste Freeman vidt og kom i regelmæssig kontakt med hvide mennesker, usædvanligt for en trælkvinde dengang.

Detaljer om Freeman, der ikke kunne læse eller skrive, er svære at finde. »Vi skriver livet for en kvinde, der ikke efterlod noget skrevet ord. Hendes eneste skrift var et 'X' -mærke på hendes gerning, "siger Levinson. Men den dokumentation, der findes, tilføjer han, viser, at hun blev talt om i glødende vendinger af de mennesker, hun arbejdede for eller interagerede med, som beskrev hende som troværdig, ærlig, hårdtarbejdende og loyal.

"Hun var den perfekte person til at være sagsøger," siger Levinson. "Hvis nogen skulle være fri, burde det være hende."

Levinson tilføjer, at Sedgwick ikke var imod slaveri, fordi han mente, at det var forkert - faktisk ejede Sedgwick selv slaveri. Han modsatte sig det, fordi han var bekymret for, at det kunne påvirke koloniernes kamp for uafhængighed fra Storbritannien. Mens Massachusetts var centrum for den tidlige slavehandel, var Boston et centrum for afskaffelse af organisationer - en kilde til spænding på et tidspunkt, hvor Sedgwick frygtede, at mangel på samhørighed kunne forstyrre uafhængigheden.

"Slaveri var et meget stridsspørgsmål i Massachusetts, og han følte, at det forårsagede politiske problemer - det var en splittende kraft, og han ønskede enhed," siger Levinson.

LÆS MERE: 6 tidlige abolitionister

Forlagt i årtier i tjeneste for en dommer

Freeman var slaver i huset til John Ashley, en fremtrædende dommer i Sheffield, Massachusetts, fra 1746 til årene op til hendes 1781 retssag. Ligesom Sedgwick og mange mænd i sin tid tilbragte Ashley sine dage med at agitere for frihed fra britisk styre, mens han deltog i historiens mest nøgne manifestation af et menneskes underkastelse af et andet.

John Ashleys kone havde ry for ekstraordinær grusomhed, og en dag kogte hendes vrede over en slavepige ved navn Lizzie over. Hun rev en jernskovl ud af ovnen og hævede den over hendes hoved, klar til at få den til at styrte ned på Lizzie, som de fleste historikere mener var enten Freemans datter eller hendes søster. Freeman kastede sig foran Lizzie og absorberede slaget. Rødglødende fra kulene, skovlen skåret så dybt ind i Freemans arm, at den ramte ben.

Hun ville bære arret resten af ​​sit liv, men påpegede senere: "Fru lagde aldrig mere hånden på Lizzie," ifølge beretninger fra Sedgwicks datter, Catharine.

At være slaver i Ashley -husstanden betød, at Freeman havde en forreste række til revolutionen, hvilket sandsynligvis tidligt informerede hendes eget oprør.

I begyndelsen af ​​1773, cirka otte år før Freemans retssag, samledes elleve af Sheffields rigeste og mest indflydelsesrige indbyggere i et af Ashleys ovenpå værelser for at udarbejde deres klager og afvise britisk tyranni. Harme mod britisk styre var begyndt at boble over, og ved udgangen af ​​året ville amerikanske kolonister smide 342 te -kister ind i havnen for at protestere mod "beskatning uden repræsentation." Boston Tea Party, som det ville blive kendt, ville galvanisere kampen for uafhængighed.

Manden, der valgte at skrive redegørelsen, var Sedgwick, der ikke blot skulle repræsentere Freeman, men også blive senator, husets formand og medlem af Massachusetts Supreme Court.

Sheffield -erklæringen skitserede klager som illoyal beskatning, men den malede også et gennemgribende portræt af autonomi, der ville præge uafhængighedserklæringens sprog tre år senere, herunder at alle mænd er “lige, frie og uafhængige og har ret til uforstyrret nydelse af deres liv, deres frihed og deres ejendom. ”

Freemans sag ender slaveriet i Massachusetts

Af nogle beretninger var Freeman i selve rummet, hvor dokumenterne blev udarbejdet, og tjente mændene, da de drømte om frihed.

"Når som helst, når som helst, mens jeg var slave, hvis et minuts frihed var blevet tilbudt mig, og jeg havde fået at vide, at jeg skulle dø i slutningen af ​​det minut, ville jeg have taget det," sagde Freeman senere. "Bare for at stå et minut på guds luft en fri kvinde - det ville jeg."

Freeman var poetisk om frihed, men hun var også aktiv i forfølgelsen, hvilket dengang var mindre usædvanligt end dokumenteret historie ofte antyder. Selvom Freemans sag var en af ​​de mest konsekvensfulde, var den bestemt ikke den eneste sag om en slaver, der brugte retssystemet til at modstå.

En slaver, Quock Walker, var allerede i gang med en juridisk kamp, ​​da Freeman gjorde klar til hendes jakkesæt. Walker var blevet arvet af Nathaniel Jennison, efter at den første mand, der ejede ham, James Caldwell, døde, og Jennison giftede sig med hans enke. Walker hævdede, at Caldwell havde lovet ham frihed, da han fyldte 25 år, og da han allerede var 28 år, flygtede han. Jennison fangede ham og slog ham.

Walker reagerede ved at sagsøge ham for overfald og batteri og hævdede, at Jennison ikke ejede ham. Walker ville til sidst vinde, og Jennison ville blive tvunget til at betale ham erstatning.

Freemans sag var mere radikal end som så. Hun sagde ikke kun, at hendes slaveri var uretfærdigt, hun sagde, at alt slaveri var uretfærdigt.

Det var ikke bare radikalt, det var effektivt. En jury bestående af tolv lokale landmænd, alle mænd og alle hvide ifølge Levinson, dømte til fordel for Freeman i 1781, hvilket gav hende frihed og tildelte hende 30 skilling i erstatning.

Det første, hun gjorde, var at ændre sit navn og afvise sit slavenavn til fordel for et, der fejrede hendes nye status.

Hendes sag, sammen med Walkers, var dødsstødet for slaveri i Massachusetts. I 1790 havde Massachusetts ifølge den føderale folketælling ikke længere slaver, hvilket gjorde den til den første stat, der fuldstændigt afskaffede slaveriet.

Freeman fortsatte med at arbejde for Sedgwicks og blev efter eget skøn et betroet familiemedlem. Hendes fremtrædende rolle i samfundet som jordemoder voksede, og hendes præstationer, der blev skitseret i et testamente, omfattede at eje et hus, 20 hektar, 300 dollars og en lang række ejendele. At sige, at dette var usædvanligt for en sort kvinde på det tidspunkt, ville være en underdrivelse. Da hun døde i 1829, omkring 85 år gammel, deltog hundredvis i hendes begravelse.

Hendes gravsten, der stadig findes i dag på Sedgwick -familiens kirkegård, var indskrevet med budskabet: ”Hun blev født som slave og forblev en slave i næsten tredive år. Hun kunne hverken læse eller skrive, men i sin egen sfære havde hun ingen overlegen eller ligeværdig. ”

LÆS MERE: Hvordan en slaveret afrikansk mand i Boston hjalp med at redde generationer fra kopper


Elizabeth Freeman, den første slave i Massachusetts, der i 1781 sagsøgte sin herre for hendes frihed

Hun var populær som mor Bett indtil 1781, da hun fik sin frihed fra sin herre og fortsatte med at ændre sit navn til Elizabeth Freeman.

Som en uuddannet dame efterlod Elizabeth Freeman ingen skriftlige dokumenter om hendes liv. Hendes betydningsfulde rolle i historien er blevet samlet fra pålidelige kilder, der har givet en nøjagtig redegørelse for hendes liv såvel som tidlige former for skriftlig historie fundet i form af historier om hende.

ifølge historiker og forskere menes Elizabeth at være blevet født i 1742 af slaver af forældre i gården til hollænderen Pieter Hogeboom i Claverack. På kun 6 måneder blev Elizabeth og hendes søster købt af John Ashley fra Sheffield, Massachusetts, der betjente ham i tæt på 40 år. På det tidspunkt blev Elizabeth kendt som mor Bett, og hendes mand siges at være død i revolutionskrigen. John Ashley var en velhavende advokat, forretningsmand og grundejer på det tidspunkt, hans kone var Hannah Ashley.

Elizabeth er kendt for at have været meget positiv i ånden og sagde ofte, at hun ikke vil dø som slave, men snarere gå frit på gaderne i Massachusetts.


Relaterede historier

Elizabeth er kendt for at have været meget positiv i ånden og sagde ofte, at hun ikke vil dø som slave, men snarere gå frit på gaderne i Massachusetts.

En dag beskyttede Elizabeth sin søster mod Hannah Ashleys forsøg på at slå hende med en opvarmet køkkenskovl af vrede. Forekomsten resulterede i, at Elizabeth tog slag for sin søster og blev efterladt med et dybt sår i hånden. Dette gjorde Elizabeth så vred, at hun gik til huset og nægtede at vende tilbage. Hændelsen øgede også hendes behov for at få frihed, og hun henvendte sig til en advokat fra Stockbridge, Theodore Sedgewick, med sine følelser mod slaveri. Hendes opfordring til advokaten var at hjælpe hende med at sagsøge sine ejere for hendes frihed.

Samtidig havde oberst Ashley appelleret til advokaten for at få Elizabeth til at vende tilbage. Sedgewick gik med til at hjælpe Elizabeth sammen med en anden af ​​Ashley ’s slaver. Elizabeth havde fortalt Sedgewick, at hun havde hørt sin herre og hans velhavende venner diskutere Bill of Rights og den nye statsforfatning og vidste, at loven bestemt gjaldt hende, hvis den sagde, at alle mennesker var født frie og lige.

Sedgewick forberedte sagen for retten og fik med succes en retsmøde for sagen, som nu er kendt som Brom & amp v. Ashley. Brom og Bett vandt sagen og blev de første slaver afrikansk -amerikanere, der blev frigivet under Massachusettes forfatning fra 1780.

Deres tidligere ejer, John Ashely, blev derefter bedt om at betale dem et beløb på tredive shilling. Kort efter hendes frihed ændrede hun navn fra mor Bett til Elizabeth Freeman. Sagen førte senere til afskaffelse af slaveri i hele Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Freeman og hendes datter flyttede ind hos Sedgewicks, og hun arbejdede som husholderske i mange år. Hun blev senere sygeplejerske og jordemoder og døde i 1829. W.E B Dubois er et af hendes oldebørn.

I dag kan Elizabeth Freemans gravsten findes i den gamle gravplads i Stockbridge.


At tjene hendes frihed

Betts hadn & apost bare flygtet af frygt. Gennem al den snak, hun & aposd hørte rundt om i Ashley -hjemmet om koloniernes rettigheder, var Bett kommet til at tro, at hun havde fået nogle egne rettigheder. For hendes ører udvidede den nye Massachusetts -forfatning beskyttelsen til alle mennesker i Commonwealth, selv til slaver.

I Sedgwick fandt hun den perfekte person til at repræsentere hende. Han ledte efter et juridisk angreb mod slaveri, og gennem Bett og en anden slaver, Brom, knyttet til årsagen, opdagede han & aposd den perfekte testsag. Den 21. august 1781, Brom og Bett v. Ashley blev først argumenteret for Court of Common Pleas.

Det tog kun en dag for juryen at finde til sagsøgernes og apos gunst. Bett og Brom blev frigivet og tildelt 30 skilling i erstatning. Ashley appellerede afgørelsen, men droppede hurtigt sagen. Mens han bad Bett om at vende tilbage til sit hjem som betalt tjener, nægtede hun og valgte i stedet at arbejde for familien Sedgwick & aposs.

En anden vigtig juridisk udfordring, ledet af afroamerikansk leder Prince Hall, involverede tre mænd, der blev bortført og ført som slaver til Vestindien. Deres sag skubbede sammen med Bett & aposs de slaveres handel i Massachusetts til de sidste dage. Handel med slaver blev officielt afsluttet i Commonwealth den 26. marts 1788, hvilket gjorde det til en af ​​de første stater i Unionen, der afskaffede den. (Vermont var den første stat, der forbød slaveri direkte i 1777.)


Elizabeth Freeman: Først slaveret afroamerikaner til at anlægge og vinde en frihedssag i Massachusetts

I 1863 erklærede Emancipation Proclamation, udstedt af Abraham Lincoln, at “at alle personer blev holdt som slaver ” i de oprørske stater “ er, og fremover skal være gratis. ” Næsten et århundrede tidligere i 1781, dog, en afroamerikansk slave i Massachusetts stævnede staten for hendes frihed. Og vandt.

Elizabeth Freeman, også kendt som "Mum Bett", blev født i New York af slaveriske forældre i 1742. Hun blev solgt i en alder af 6 måneder til en fremtrædende slaveejer i Massachusetts, oberst John Ashley fra Sheffield, der også fungerede som dommer af Berkshire Court of Common Pleas. Freeman ville tilbringe de næste 30 plus år som slaver i Massachusetts.

Freeman ægtemand døde under den revolutionære krig og efterlod hende enke med en datter Besty.

Freeman ville også udholde fysisk overgreb fra sin ejers elskerinde. Ved en lejlighed blev hun ramt af en opvarmet skovl, der forsøgte at beskytte sin søster. Hun var træt og løb væk fra plantagen og nægtede at vende tilbage. Oberst John Ashley appellerede til retshåndhævelse for at få hende tilbage, men Freeman havde en anden plan.

At være omkring obersten og hans højt profilerede venner var, hvor hun overhørte folk tale om den nye forfatning. Artikel 1 i Massachusetts -forfatningen siger:

"Alle mennesker er født frie og lige og har visse naturlige, væsentlige og umistelige rettigheder, blandt hvilke man kan regne retten til at nyde og forsvare deres liv og friheder, at erhverve, besidde og beskytte ejendom i fin form, at søge og opnå deres sikkerhed og lykke. ”

For at forstå konsekvenserne af forfatningen fik hun hjælp fra advokat og afskaffelse, Theodore Sedwick, til at påberåbe sig sin sag for frihed. Brom og Bett mod Ashley blev retssager i Court of Common Pleas i Great Barrington i august 1781. Sagen blev anlagt præcis to år efter, at Massachusetts ratificerede forfatningen og var den første sag, der udfordrede eksistensen af ​​slaveri i staten.

Juryen var i hendes favør, og hun blev den første afroamerikanske kvinde i Massachusetts til at sagsøge for frihed og vinde. Hun blev hos Sedwick -familien som en taknemmelig tjener, inden hun fik sit eget hus med sin datter og blev jordemoder og sygeplejerske. Freeman døde i 1829 som en fri kvinde i Massachusetts.


Glemt historie: Hvordan New England -kolonisterne omfavnede slavehandelen

Glemt historie: Hvordan New England -kolonisterne omfavnede slavehandelen

Clark University-historiker Ousmane Power-Greene og andre mener, at da Bett hørte disse diskussioner om frihed, gav de genklang hos hende.

"Det er i det øjeblik, at de samme hvide mennesker formulerer det verbalt og skriver det ned og forkynder det, der bare vil opfordre hende," siger Power-Greene, "til at gå videre og prøve at se, om det ville vise sig i hendes egentlige frihed. "

Omkring et årti senere ændrede et afgørende øjeblik i dette hus alt. En dag blev der bagt brød til familien. En ung pige ved navn Lizzie, der enten var Bets datter eller søster - historikere er uenige - lagde et stykke rester af dej i ilden til sig selv. Hannah Ashley blev sur, tog en skovl fra pejsen - og Bett kom imellem dem.

"[Hun] lagde armen i vejen og blev derefter ramt af dette, hvilket efterlod et ar, som hun naturligvis ville holde ud for folk at se og se det på som en slags illustration af den slags vold at hun udholdt som en slaver i husstanden, «siger Power-Greene.

Wilson siger, at historien fortæller, at Bett traskede væk fra huset flere kilometer gennem dyb sne.

Hun har modstandskraften til bare at samle sig og gå til hjemmet til den unge Theodore Sedgwick, en advokat, "siger Wilson," og bede om en dragt til hendes frihed. "

Sedgwick var en af ​​de mænd, Bett havde overhørt at skrive Sheffield Resolves.

Skjult hjerne

En grundlæggende modsætning: Thomas Jeffersons holdning til slaveri

Han gik med til at repræsentere hende og tilføjede en mand, Brom, også slaver af Ashleys, til retssagen. Brom & Bett mod Ashley blev hørt i Berkshire County Court.

Men Sedgwick var også en, der havde købt slaver. Det kan virke overraskende i dag, men Peter Drummey fra Massachusetts Historical Society siger, at det afspejler en dobbelthed af ideer i det hvide revolutionære Amerika.

"Der er et paradoks i den tidlige amerikanske historie, hvor folk kan argumentere for personlig frihed og senere for uafhængighed og samtidig være aktive deltagere i systemet med at slavebinde mennesker både direkte - personligt - som i tilfældet med Theodore Sedgwick, eller lever i et samfund, hvor økonomien understøttes af slaveri overalt, «siger Drummey.

Emily Blanck siger, at historikere ikke ved det med sikkerhed, men hun mener, at Sedgwick ville vide, om slaveri stadig var lovligt i henhold til den nye Massachusetts -forfatning.

"Det erklærede, at alle mænd er født frie og lige, og Sedgwick og andre mente, at dette var uforeneligt med at holde folk i slaveri i staten, «siger Blanck.

Elizabeth Freeman er begravet på Sedgwick -familiens grund på Stockbridge, Mass., Kirkegård. Nancy Eve Cohen /New England Public Media skjul billedtekst

Elizabeth Freeman er begravet på Sedgwick -familiens grund på Stockbridge, Mass., Kirkegård.

Nancy Eve Cohen /New England Public Media

Sedgwick vandt sagen og Bett vandt hendes frihed. Efter endnu en vellykket frihedssag støttede statens juridiske institutioner ikke længere slaveri. Det betyder ikke, at det forsvandt, men omkring et årti senere rapporterede ingen i Massachusetts til folketællingen, at de ejede slaver.

Bett begyndte derefter at kalde sig Elizabeth Freeman og arbejdede i cirka to årtier som betalt husholderske for Sedgwick. Hun passede også sine børn, herunder Catharine Maria Sedgwick, der nedskrev Freemans historie.

Først i 60’erne flyttede Elizabeth Freeman til sin egen ejendom sammen med sin familie. Hun levede indtil omkring 85 år og er begravet i den inderste kreds af Sedgwick -familiens grund i Stockbridge, Mass.


Mumbet Mini -serie

“Når som helst, når som helst mens jeg var slave, hvis et minuts frihed var blevet tilbudt mig, og jeg havde fået at vide, at jeg skulle dø i slutningen af ​​det minut, ville jeg have taget det - bare at stå et minut på gud 'en fri kvinde - det ville jeg.'
—- Mumbet
som fortalt af Catharine Maria Sedgwick
Som trykt i Bentleys Miscellany XXXIV (1853)
"Slavery in New England" s. 420

Elizabeth 'Mumbet' Freeman var den første sorte kvinde, der fik sin frihed i retten i det nyoprettede USA. Hendes historie er en bemærkelsesværdig historie, der skal fortælles. Denne tv -serie er baseret på den nøjagtighed og drama, som historikere har fundet frem til. Det vil gøre Mumbet berømt, en folkehelt, der er inspirerende. Hendes karakter er lig med Daniel Boone (1734 - 1820), Davy Crockett (1786 - 1836) og John Henry (1840 - 1875). Dette fjernsyn eller miniserie vil inspirere balladen om Mumbet.

Historien om Mumbet er en blanding af folkehistorie og fakta, som historikere elsker at studere og laver en opskrift på kreative sind at pynte i en tv -serie. Den primære kilde til information om denne attraktive karakter er et af de børn, Mumbet opfostrede, Catharine Sedgwick, fordi Mumbet var hendes stedfortrædende mor. Et andet barn, hun rejste, skrev Mumbets gravskrift på hendes gravsten, der findes i dag i Sedgwick -familiens plot og lyder:

“ELIZABETH FREEMAN
kendt under navnet MUMBET
Død 28. december 1829
Hendes formodede alder var 85 år

Hun blev født som slave og forblev slave i næsten tredive år. Hun kunne hverken læse eller skrive, men i sin egen sfære havde hun ingen overlegen eller ligeværdig. Hun hverken spildte tid eller ejendom. Hun krænkede aldrig en tillid eller undlod at udføre en pligt. I enhver situation i hjemmet var hun den mest effektive hjælper og den ømeste ven.

Da det var usædvanligt for familier i denne periode at skrive om karakteren af ​​en af ​​deres tjenere, kan vi i dag tegne et billede af Mumbets usædvanlige personlighed, der afslører en overlegen forståelse og vid, der overskrider tiden, der gør hende til en overlegen kvinde. Denne tv -serie giver andre mulighed for at sætte pris på Mumbet's eminence. Mens hun var slave, blev hun kendt som Bett eller Betty. Senere efter hendes frihed blev hun kendt som Mumbet. Indstillingen for denne tv -serie er centreret i Theodore Sedgwick -hjemmet i Stockbridge, Massachusetts, hvilket hjem stadig eksisterer. Mumbet lever i husstanden som en fri tjener og vikarisk mor for Theodores børn, der kaldte Elizabeth Freeman kærligt ‘Mumbet.’ Den første episode finder sted i 1811. Mumbet er 70 år og vil fortælle sin historie og fortælle hver episode i flashbacks. Mumbet sidder for sit portræt ved at blive malet af Susan Sedgwick, en af ​​karaktererne i serien, hvilket miniatureportræt findes i Massachusetts Historical Society. Susan maler, mens hendes svigerinde, Catharine Sedgwick, sidder og tager nogle noter.

Et tilbageblik i Mumbets liv, hvoraf nogle er nævnt senere.

Mumbet døde i 1829, så der kan være episoder af Mumbets liv fra 1811 til hendes død. Mens Stockbridge sætter centrum, vil serien blinke tilbage til Claverack [New York], Ashley Falls [Massachusetts], Washington, DC og Boston. Karaktererne i denne serie er mange og kommer fra alle samfundslag og vil være rige på historien i denne periode. Der vil være navne, vi kender, og nogle vi aldrig har hørt.

Ifølge folklore blev Mumbet født som slave og blev erhvervet sammen med sin søster Lizzy af en hollænder, Pietre Hoogeboom fra Claverack, New York på slavemarkedet i Albany. Engang efter 1758, efter Pietres død, blev Mumbet og hendes søster erhvervet af oberst John Ashley og hans kone Hannah, som var Pietres datter, som et resultat af fuldbyrdelsen af ​​Pietres testamente. Mumbet ville have været omkring 14 år. Nogle foreslår, at hun kom til Ashley -hjemmet, da hun var seks måneder gammel. Mumbet tjente som slave i Ashley -hjemmet med sin søster indtil en alder af 37. Hjemmet, hvor hun tjente, eksisterer stadig og er det ældste hjem i Berkshire County.

Mumbet havde en ægtemand, Brom. Brom bliver en rig karakter at udvikle og giver mulighed for en romantisk episode, et flashback kaldet 'Brom & amp Bett', der ligger i Ashley Falls. Brom ville være en væsentlig karakter i serien.

Catharine Sedgwick hævder, at den afgørende faktor, der motiverede Mumbet til frihed, var, at Mumbet havde lyttet til samtaler mellem oberst Ashley, Theodore Sedgwick, Ethan Allen, Tapping Reeve og andre, der havde mødt hinanden i Ashley -hjemmet, hvor hun serverede disse mænd mad og drikke , lytte til samtaler, der dannede en del af grundlaget for amerikansk uafhængighed.

I 1773 skrev disse mænd, hvad der er blevet kendt som

'Sheffield Resolves', der erklærede, at "Menneskeheden i en naturtilstand er lige, frie og uafhængige af hinanden." Mumbet deltog i disse mænd, da disse ord blev talt i hendes nærvær. Oberst Ashley før dette var loyal over for briterne, men dette var en erklæring om klager mod England og er blevet noteret som en af ​​de tidlige protester af slagsen i kolonierne. Senere blev det kendt som Sheffield -uafhængighedserklæringen. En af de 'Løsninger', som Mumbet hørte talt, var:

"Løst, at den store ende med det politiske samfund er at sikre mere effektivt de rettigheder og privilegier, som Gud og naturen har gjort os frie til."
—Sheffield: Frontier Town, Priess, s.172

Senere tog oberst Ashley en ledende rolle i den revolutionære krig i Berkshires, hvilket bestemt Mumbet blev påvirket af den opfordring til frihed, som hun uden tvivl følte anvendt på hende lige så meget som alle andre.

Catharine giver et billede af Mumbet som en neger med høj intelligens, der var påvirket af diskussioner om frihed og lighed og blev flyttet til at søge flugt fra sit slaveri. Catharine fortæller, at engang efter afslutningen af ​​uafhængighedskrigen skete Mumbet ved forsamlingshuset i Sheffield og hørte en læsning af uafhængighedserklæringen. Den næste dag efter slaget betød for Lizzy [et andet flashback nævnt senere] gik hun med sit lille barn, lille Bet, de fire kilometer fra Ashley -hjemmet til unge Theodore Sedgwicks advokatkontor på en kold, våd dag, traskende gennem mudderet og gik ind i rummet og sagde:

"Sir ... Jeg hørte, at papiret læste i går, hvor der står, at alle mennesker er født lige, og at hver mand har ret til frihed ... jeg er ikke en dum critter, vil loven ikke give mig nogen frihed?"
- Bentley's Miscellany 34 (1853)
"Slavery in New England" s. 418

Historien bekræfter, at Mumbet vandt hendes frihed. Sedgwick blev assisteret af Tapping Reeve fra Litchfield, Connecticut, der dannede den første lovskole i Amerika. Hun var en af ​​de første slaver, der blev sat fri i Massachusetts og det nyoprettede USA, i det mindste den første sorte kvinde, der blev sat fri.

Denne episode af retssalen ved en jury har drama, mens den er baseret på den domstol, der stadig eksisterer i Boston, giver mulighed for en vis kunstnerisk licens. Brom ville være involveret, da rekorden angiver hans navn på pladen sammen med Bet. Nogle meget vigtige advokater i perioden blev bragt ind i sagen, ikke kun Tapping Reeve med Theodore Sedgwick for Mumbet, men også David Noble og Jonathan Canfield til forsvar for oberst Ashley.

Efter at Mumbet er erklæret fri, tilbyder oberst Ashley at ansætte Mumbet i hjemmet, men hun beslutter i stedet som en fri kvinde at arbejde i advokatens hjem, der hjalp hende med at få hendes frihed. På dette tidspunkt overtager hun navnet Elizabeth Freeman. Sedgwick -hjemmet er fyldt med børn, som Mumbet opdrager som vikarisk mor, siden Theodore Sedgwicks kone, Pamela er syg. Catharine Sedgwick fortæller nogle episoder i hjemmet, hvor Mumbets karakter afsløres.

Når en episode, der var et tilbageblik, involverede det yngste barn, Charles Sedgwick, der skrev Mumbets epitafium. Da Charles blev født, var hans mor begrænset til hendes seng. Theodore Sedgwick bemærkede, da han så på sin søn,

Mumbet rejste og plejede barnet, og efter fire måneder vendte dommeren tilbage fra en af ​​sine ture, og da han så barnet, ifølge Catharine, kom der 'tårer i dommerens øjne', og han tog en sølvkrone op af lommen og gav den til Mumbet, der beholdt kronen, indtil hun døde.

Mens hun er i Ashley -hjemmet, er der en begivenhed i køkkenet, der giver en interessant flashback -episode, der afslører hendes fantastiske personlighed. Oberst John Ashley var en rig herre og en retfærdighed for de almindelige anbringender, der havde en høj status i samfundet, et varmt, forstående menneske, der bar medfølelse med alle mænd. Hans kone Hannah er i modsætning til hendes mand en anden slags.

Der er tegn på, at oberst Ashley og hans kone, Hannah, kan have haft forskellige holdninger til slaveri. Hannah, af hollandsk afstamning, kan have været påvirket af slaveriet, der var mere solidt forankret i New York, hvor holdninger og slave love var hårdere og mere diskriminerende end i Massachusetts, hvor slaveri ikke var fast etableret og love var mindre alvorlige. Oberst Ashley blev født i Massachusetts og kan have været påvirket af det engelske syn på slaveri, der betragtede neger, ikke som ejendom, men i samme retning som hvide indenturerede tjenere. Så der er tegn på, at de to havde forskellige holdninger til behandlingen af ​​slaver. Mumbet omtalte altid oberst Ashley som 'mester' eller sin 'gamle mester', mens han henviste til Hannah som 'fru'. Catharine Maria Sedgwick, der blev rejst af Mumbet, udtrykte sit syn på John og Hannah i en række sammenligninger:

“Forsynets plan om at forhindre uhyrlige uoverensstemmelser ved at parre den høje med den korte, den fede med den magre, den sure med den søde ... blev illustreret af… [oberst] Ashley med sit hjælpemøde. Han var de blideste, mest godartede mænd, hun var en kløgtig utålelig ... Han havde medlidenhed, tolerance og tilgivelse for enhver menneskelig fejl ... Der var ikke et sådant ord i hendes ordforråd ... Hendes retfærdighed var uden skalaer, såvel som blind, ... Han var den venligste af mestre, hun er den mest despotiske af elskerinder. ”
- Bentley's Miscellany 34 (1853)
"Slavery in New England" s. 419

Denne episode i køkkenet, som Mumbet afslører i et tilbageblik, vedrører en ung pige, der var i problemer, som kom til Ashley -huset for at få hjælp. Mumbet er en dybt omsorgsfuld person, der bringer pigen ind i hjemmet og beder hende vente i køkkenet med hende, til oberst Ashley vender tilbage. Mrs. Ashley finds the girl in the kitchen and is offended, but Mumbet determines to defend the girl. As Catharine Sedgwick wrote, this is what Mumbet said happened:

“When Madam had got half across the kitchen, in full sight of the child, she turned to me, and her eyes flashing like a cat’s in the dark, she asked me ‘what that baggage wanted?’

What does she want to say to your master?’ ‘I don’t know, ma’m.’

‘I know, she added – and there was no foul thing she didn’t call the child.”
—-Bentley’s Miscellany XXXIV (1853)
“Slavery in New England”

Mrs. Ashley ordered the girl from the house, but Mumbet stood her ground.

Hannah Ashley turns red with anger, her neck muscles tense

CUT TO CLOSE SHOT OF CHILD WHO IS SCARRED OUT OF HER WITS

CUT TO MUMBET WHO LOOKS CONCERNED FOR THE CHILD

CHILD, I ORDERED YOU OUT OF MY HOUSE.

Child, I told you to sit and wait for the Judge ,

who will hear you. Don’t you worry…

If the gal has a complaint to make, she has a right

to see the judge that’s lawful, and stands to reason besides

“Madam knew when I set my foot down, I kept it down,”

Even though Mrs. Ashley ‘rose as a thunder storm’ and left the kitchen in a frenzy, the troubled girl got to see Colonel Ashley. The story goes that the girl reveals to the Judge that she had been raped by her father. But Mumbet’s inner quality of justice and honor are evident from this episode in her life. Even though Mumbet could neither read nor write, her inner sense of what was legal and right was firmer than her mistress.

This leads us to the event which prompted Mumbet to sue for freedom creating another flashback episode in the kitchen in the Ashley house. There were a number of reasons why Mumbet was motivated to be set free, but folklore has it that it was this incident in the kitchen involving her younger sister Lizzy. Stories about Lizzy indicate that she was not the servant Mumbet was and that her sister usually finished what Lizzy had started. Bett watched over her sickly sister as a ‘lioness does over her cubs.’ Hannah was in the kitchen one day where she discovered a wheat cake Lizzy made for herself out of the family dough. Angry at the ‘thief,’ Hannah picked up a large iron shovel, hot from cleaning the oven, and attempted to strike Lizzy but Mumbet placed her arm between them and received the blow which resulted in a permanent scar on her forearm that Mumbet liked to show people to indicate the brutality of her mistress. Mumbet relates about this event:

“Madam never again laid her hand on Lizzy. I had a bad arm all winter, but Madam got the worst of it. I never covered the wound, and when people said to me, before Madam, ‘Why Betty! what ails your arm?’ I only answered

– ‘Ask missis!’ ” —
Bentley’s Miscellany (1853) “Slavery in New England”

It was supposedly after this event that Mumbet carried her child, Little Bet to Sedgwick’s law office to ask him to defend her claim of freedom.

Mumbet’s sense of caring and nurturing came across clearly into the hearts of the children she raised as evidenced by their written remarks concerning her. At least three of the children have written about her character. Another episode is worthy of a flashback involving Shay’s Rebellion.

Daniel Shay and his men were not happy with the newly formed government and the taxes such a government levied against its citizens and basically this rowdy bunch of men used it as an excuse for looting and pillaging the wealthy. Daniel Shay’s men were on a looting spree heading toward Stockbridge and the town was a stir with the news. Mumbet was home with the children and Mrs. Sedgwick was sick in bed while Judge Sedgwick was away on a trip. Mumbet prepared to defend the home from these insurgents. She proved to be just as courageous and determined in resisting these rebels as she did in defending her sister Lizzy from Mrs. Ashley’s wrath.

According the folklore, Mumbet first hid the good wine in the cellar and hid the silver and valuables in her personal trunk in her room. She put the children with their mother in her bedroom. She replaced the wine with some sour port and the silver cups with pewter. One story is related that she bolted the door and threatened to pour a kettle of boiling beer on the first of the rebels to enter the home. Another story is that she welcomed them into the home with graciousness and hospitality, offering these dirty scoundrels to have a seat and drink some of the Judge’s ‘best wine.’ The men spit out the sour port claiming that this was the worst wine they had ever drank and that the Judge had poor taste in drinking. Upon looting the home the rebels took the pewter and whatever they wanted, but upon heading into Mrs. Sedgwick’s room, Mumbet stood her ground and said they could not bother the sick woman nor the children and would have to get past her first. The men checked the room to see if it was true what she said and Mumbet allowed a look, but they did not bother the children or Mrs. Sedgwick. The men were about to search Mumbet’s room and she immediately had entered the room before them and sat on the trunk which contained the family valuables, and since she was sitting on it, one of the men demanded the key to the trunk. It is said that Mumbet ‘laughed in scorn’ and said:

Ah, Sam Cooper, you and your fellows are no better than I thought you. You call me ‘wench’ and ‘nigger,’ and you are not above rummaging in my chest….

At this point, Mumbet relates that the leader of the insurgents ‘turned and slunk away like a whipped cur as he was!’ After this the rebels were about to take the Judge’s favorite horse that was in the barn. Mumbet told the men that she was ‘skittish’ and that she was the only one that could put a rein and saddle on the mare. The men agreed to this and when Mumbet put a rein and saddle on the horse and led them to the men she had in her hand a pin hidden.

Here’s your horse. Now, careful, you’ll scare her

THE MEN MOVE CLOSE TO TAKE THE HORSE MUMBET JABS THE HORSE WITH THE HIDDEN PIN IN HER HAND THE HORSE RAISES UP AND WHINES AND KICKS AT THE MEN AND RUNS AWAY FREE

Now, look what you done! I told you not to scare her. What’d you do that for? I had her all tame and nice and you had to do that. Why you’ll be to sundown looking for that horse. Who knows where she lit to….

Later the last stand of the rebels was in a field in Sheffield and were put down by the new American Army led by Colonel Ashley’s son, General John Ashley, who took the rebels to Springfield for incarceration. Thus the end of Shay’s Rebellion.

However, the incident with Mumbet illustrates her unsurpassed fidelity to her employers and that she was not naturally rebellious herself in a properly regulated household and shows a wonderful balance in her nature.

One other flashback episode to embellish could also be used to the end of the series is the gold bead necklace worn by Mumbet in the miniature painting that exists in the Masschusetts Historical Society in Boston. An episode could be told about how she was given the necklace. We do know that at her death the necklace was given to Catharine Maria Sedgwick who later made the remaining gold beads into a bracelet with the inscription ‘Mumbet’ engraved in the inside clasp that is the property now of the MHS.

Mumbet needs to tell her story. This television series allows her to tell this story which has been overlooked far too long. It begins with her sitting for a miniature portrait telling in a series of flashbacks what happened. It also allows for the folklore to have some artistic license. While she raised the Sedgwick children as their substitute mother in Stockbridge since Theodore’s wife Pamela was sickly, she could have accompanied the children to Washington when Sedgwick served there and met notable Americans in Washington such as Washington, Hamilton, Jay, and Knox creating some episodes in that setting allowing for some of her wit and charm to influence others. Sedgwick also spent time in Boston which allows some trips for Mumbet with the children as they grow for episodes in that historic setting. And of course, episodes in Mumbet’s life could be set in Stockbridge in the Sedgwick home with many flashbacks of her life as a slave in the Ashley home. Catharine would be listening to the accounts of Mumbet’s past as well as an integral part of the television series. The cast are as follows, all of whom are historical persons:

Elizabeth ‘Mumbet’ Freeman (1744 – 1829), the central figure in the television series

Brom – black male, Mumbet’s common law husband, this character allows for some artistic license since not much is known about him (could be just a friend of Mumbet since Mumbet is aka ‘a spinster’)

Little Bet – black female, Mumbet’s daughter, this character allows for some artistic license since not much is known about her .

Lizzy – black female, Mumbet’s younger sister, this character allows for some artistic license since only a little is known about her. After Mumbet left the Ashley home to serve freely in the Sedgwick home, Lizzy remained at the Ashley home and would not accompany her sister which may create possible episodes involving this character

Theodore Sedgwick (1746 – 1813) Member of Massachusetts state legislature Delegate to Continental Congress from Massachusetts U.S. Representative from Massachusetts 1789-96, 1799-1801 Speaker of the U.S. House, 1799-1801 U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, 1796-99 state supreme court judge, wealthy property owner. His portrait is painted by Gilbert Stuart and hangs in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston. He attended Yale, was admitted to the Massachusett’s bar at the age of nineteen. Sedgwick was one of the lawyers who won Mumbet’s freedom in 1781 in Great Barrington at the age of 35. After the trial, Mumbet served in the Sedgwick household after leaving the Ashley House and became a central figure in the home. Sedgwick’s children named ‘Mumbet,’ who became their substitute mother. This character is a central figure in the series.

Catharine Sedgwick (1789 – 1867) daughter of Theodore Sedgwick, a prolific writer who is the principle source of information about Mumbet historically. She wrote numerous novels and stories. This character is a principle figure in the series.

Tapping Reeve – the other lawyer to assist Theodore Sedgwick in winning Mumbet’s freedom. He formed the first law school in America in Litchfield, Connecticut and made his mark as the foremost legal scholar in the nation

Pamela Sedgwick (1753 -1807) first wife of Theodore, described as, ‘suffering from extreme loneliness and depression and melancholy’ Mumbet is described by Pamela’s daughter as the only person who could calm her mother down when she became ‘disordered’

Theodore Sedgwick, Jr. (1780 – 1839) eldest son of Theodore

Susan Anne Livingston Ridley Sedgwick (1788 -1867) wife of Theodore Sedgwick, Jr. who painted Mumbet’s miniature portrait in 1811

Elizabeth Sedgwick (1775 – 1825) eldest daughter of Theodore

Frances Sedgwick (1778 – 1842) child of Theodore

Robert Sedgwick (1787 – 1841) child of Theodore

Charles Sedgwick (1791 – 1856) youngest son of Theodore Sedgwick who wrote Mumbet’s epitaph on her grave

Colonel John Ashley (1709 – 1802) a wealthy property owner who owned extensive lands, part of an iron ore mine that supplied iron for the Revolutionary Army, owned a general store, became a lawyer and judge, graduated from Yale, admitted to the Hampshire County Bar in 1732, served in the Massachusetts Militia during the French and Indian War when he was promoted to colonel. This character is rich with history and an essential character in the television series. He was Mumbet’s owner when she was set free as a slave, so would be in many flashback episodes.

Hanna (Annatie) Ashley (1712 – 1790) wife of Colonel Ashley according to folklore is the one instrumental in Mumbet’s desire to be set free from the Ashley household and is an essential character in the flashback episodes with her husband.

Agrippa Hull (1759 – 1848), wealthiest black land owner in Stockbridge who worked for Theodore Sedgwick and neighbor of Mumbet when she purchased land and a house from Aggripa.

Pieter Hoogeboom (b. ? – d. 1758), father of Hannah Ashley, a wealthy property owner from Claverack, New York who first acquired Mumbet which allows for a flashback to Mumbet’s birth with a story for an episode

Maj Gen. John Ashley (1738 – 1799) eldest son of Colonel John Ashley

Mary Ashley (b. 1740 – d.?) daughter of Colonel Ashley

Hannah Ashley (b. 1744 – d. ?) daughter of Colonel Ashley

David Noble, a lawyer who defended Colonel Ashley in Mumbet’s plea of replevin in the court case winning her freedom who became a trustee of Williams College

Jonathan Canfield, another lawyer who defended Colonel Ashley in Mumbet’s plea of replevin in the court case winning her freedom

John – black male slave of Colonel Ashley

Zack Mullen- black male slave of Colonel Ashley, who also brought a suit against Colonel Ashley in October, 1781, the same year that Mumbet gained her freedom. This will allow for a flashback since Mumbet new this man and worked with him. His trial kept getting postponed and there is speculation what happened to him.

Harry – black male slave of Colonel Ashley

Ethan Allen, friend of Theodore Sedgwick and Col. John Ashley and was a partner in Ashley’s iron ore mine

George Washington, friend of Theodore Sedgwick

John Adams (1735 – 1826) friend of Theodore Sedgwick

John Jay, friend of Theodore Sedgwick

Alexander Hamilton, friend of Theodore Sedgwick

Henry Knox, friend of Theodore Sedgwick

Thomas Jefferson, friend of Theodore Sedgwick

Many other characters may be introduced into the series, the possibilities are substantial since history supplies many names…

The music for the series should be written by someone who can appreciate Mumbet’s heroic qualities and should be entitled: Mumbet’s Theme

The series can cover the life of Mumbet from her birth till her death with a lot of artistic license to give her the folk hero status she deserves.


Acknowledgement

Bogen, One Minute A Free Woman: Elizabeth Freeman and the Struggle for Freedom (2010) by Emilie Piper and David Levinson claims that “Lizzie” being Mumbet’s sister is uncertain. The authors are fairly certain from archival research that Lizzy was in fact her daughter. The authors also point out that even though W.E.B. Du Bois claimed he was related to Mumbet, the genealogical studies show Mumbet was not. The authors studied whether Elizabeth Freeman was married to a man who served in the Revolutionary War and found that records show she was never married (the court record describes Mumbet as a spinster). So Brom could not be Mumbet’s common law husband. The authors also claim that Elizabeth Freeman was not the first black woman to win her freedom and instead claim Freeman was the first in Massachusetts to sue for her freedom on constitutional grounds and win, thus helping to end slavery in Massachusetts. The book also introduces many new, rich details about this exceptional woman’s life that heretofore were unknown. And it sets her story in the context of her times and her home sites, as well as following her descendants through the years.

While the authors have changed the story (just a bit) that has been told for years in Berkshire County there will be without a doubt other researchers and authors stimulated to uncover the facts and add more to Mumbet’s story.

For example, Nash and Gao Hodges published in 2012 that Mumbet and Agrippa Hull both worked at the Sedgwick Stockbridge Home and were neighbors when Mumbet moved into her own purchased home, which is the book below:

Without a doubt more information on Mumbet will continue to be dug up by scholars, historians and authors which will be published on this website and acknowledging the source.

Another example is this quote from the The Revolution and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts, Royall House and Slave Quarters:

“As early as 1781, a local court of common pleas found in favor of Elizabeth (Mum Bett) Freeman and a man named Brom when they argued that they were being held in slavery unlawfully. And in 1783, in a freedom suit brought by Quock Walker, Chief Justice William Cushing of the Supreme Judicial Court in effect told the jury that slavery had been abolished by the new state Constitution. Elizabeth Freeman was later remembered as saying, “Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on god’s airth a free woman—I would.” ”


Related stories

Maria’s mother, Maria Antonia was purchased as a slave for Presbyter Afonso Cepeda de Arizcum Elizondo, a priest who owned serval plantations. After falling sick with leprosy, she was abandoned by the Cepeda family and died shortly after, leaving Maria and her brother to their fate.

They were taken in and cared for by an indigenous woman believed to be an Indian until the Cepeda family later reclaimed her and forcefully took her in as a slave.

While working as a slave, Maria got married and had a beautiful daughter. When her daughter was about 12 and old enough to help her mother work, Afonso Cepeda attempted to forcefully take her daughter away to work for his blind sister. Despite begging the priest several times, Maria’s daughter was still captured.

With the fury of a mother and the tiredness of a slave who had worked for so long for nothing in return, Maria stood up to Afonso and demanded her freedom.

Maria’s legal battles for freedom started in May 1794. She presented her case to the local court stating that even though she was a slave, she understood the rights of every human and was demanding her freedom and the freedom of her daughter after being one of many women from her family to work as slaves for Afonso.

Maria lost her first case in court but later gained her freedom and that of her daughter after arguing that she was born free. She presented evidence to the court that Afonso abandoned her mother. By colonial law, a slave that was abandoned by their owner was automatically free through manumission.

The case between Maria and Afonso went back and forth for several years until she was forced to return as a slave. She, however, she made an appeal to the Real Audiencia of Quito which was the highest court at the time.

While the case was examined, Maria had the rights to live as a free woman in Equador. The verdict from the high court was never ruled because documents on the case later vanished and Maria died a few years later.

The resilience and intelligence of Maria Chiquinquira Diaz was an inspiration to many Afro-Ecuadorian women and slaves to stand up for themselves until they gained their freedom. With no education or support, Maria managed to win her freedom.

Today, her story is deeply rooted in the history of the Afr0-Ecuadorans but needs to be acknowledged throughout black history.


Road To Freedom | Elizabeth Freeman’s Journey Out Of Slavery – Bett vs. Ashley

Slavery had been deeply intertwined into the economy of the 18th century American colonies. This is the story of a slave in the home of Colonel Ashley and how she used the U.S Revolution to sue for freedom and won her case against the state of Massachusetts.

Elizabeth Freeman spent the first half of her life being the property of someone else because she had been born into slavery. According the Ashley Museum her name from birth until 1781 was known as “Bett”. The name even appears on her court case. Bett was a very common name for enslaved women at the time and it is not known who gave it to her. Elizabeth Freeman is the name that she chose for herself when she won her freedom. Although it does not appear in many other places, it is how she refers to herself in official documents. She was known mostly as “Mum Bett” to all those she helped and inspired. After she gained her freedom, Elizabeth Freeman said:

“Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on God’s earth a free woman— I would.”

The early years of Elizabeth Freeman’s life is quite unclear. She was born sometime in the 1740s most likely near The Hudson Valley River in New York. The home of Pieter Hogeboom in Claverack is where she spent her childhood. She was a slave from the beginning which meant right from the start everyday life was very bleak and exhausting.

According to an article titled Elizabeth Freeman: Massachusetts Slave by the Woman’s History Blog, it was not long before her circumstances changed and she was sold into another household to work under new masters leaving behind those she had known.

“Elizabeth Freeman, known as Bett in early life and later as Mum Bett, was born to enslaved parents in 1742 at the farm of Dutchman Pieter Hogeboom in Claverack, New York, about twenty miles south of Albany. Bett and her younger sister Lizzie grew up as slave children. Freeman was illiterate and left no written records of her life. Her early history has been pieced together from the writings of contemporaries, as well as from historical records.

In 1735 Hogeboom’s youngest child, Hannah, married John Ashley of Sheffield, Massachusetts, the son of one of the original proprietors permitted by the General Court of Massachusetts to organize settlements along the Housatonic River. The Ashleys had four children. Exactly when they acquired Bett and Lizzie is not known, but it was most likely after Hannah’s father died in 1758, when Bett was about sixteen.”

Elizabeth Freeman moved to the Ashley House in her young teen years, according to most sources. The dates of precisely when she was sold is not entirely known. Hannah Ashley was not an easy mistress to serve however, the family was very prominent and wealthy.

John Ashley was an active and a leading member of the community during these times even being appointed as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas making his home a notorious place where political discussions often occurred. The Ashley farm was known for being the biggest house in town and John Ashley himself was a massive supporter of the American Revolution. He was Yale educated with a law degree under his belt. It is because of this discussion that first sparked Elizabeth’s interest in freedom and what was occurring in the colonies as states began drafting their own constitution claiming that all men were equal and had basic rights that could not be taken away from them.

Slaves working in the Ashley house had to be expected to work at any hour tending to the fire, cooking, cleaning, spinning, sewing, hauling water and ash. They were expected to serve all household guest and be at their call to care for their comforts. Slavery is a huge injustice and often layered in pure unacceptable violence. Elizabeth was like any slave and had her fair share of this misery. Hannah Ashley was a temperamental and mean lady. An article in the Elizabeth Freeman Center makes clear of a moment where Hannah Ashley inflicted damaging injuries to her slaves.

“During her period of enslavement to them, she married and had a child, Betsy. In 1780, Mrs. Ashley struck at Betsy with a heated shovel, but Bet shielded her daughter, receiving a deep wound in her arm in the process. Bet left this wound uncovered as it healed, as evidence of her harsh treatment.”

[The Colonel John Ashley House]

Slaves were commonly illiterate and uneducated. Elizabeth Freeman was no exception and never received any schooling however, as reported by the Ashley House Museum there was a way to gain knowledge. Elizabeth despite her enslavement did have the ability to listen to the discussion around her and was able to gain ideas from that learning.

“While working in the Ashley home, Bett educated herself by “keeping still and minding things” while prominent Sheffield men discussed politics in the study. In this way, she heard the words of the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution, which declared that “all men are born free and equal.”

Bett understood that those words meant that she, too, had a right to be free and equal. In 1781 she met with lawyer Theodore Sedgwick and asked him to represent her in a lawsuit. Sedgwick agreed.Brom, a man enslaved to Col. Ashley’s son, also joined the suit. The higher legal and social status of men meant that the case was more likely to be taken seriously with Brom involved.

In May 1781, Bett and Brom sued for the right to own themselves in the case now known as Brom and Bett vs. Ashley. Sedgwick argued that Ashley did not own Bett and Brom because slavery was unlawful under the new constitution.”

The court case was not motivated to directly target John Ashley for breaking any known laws, it instead challenged the legality of the entire institution of slavery in the state of Massachusetts with the goal of winning well deserved freedom for the defendants.

In “The Practicability of the Abolition of Slavery,” a lecture delivered fifty years after the event, Henry Dwight Sedgwick, one of Theodore Sedgwick’s ten children, recalled the episode.

“Slavery in New-York and New-England,” he first explained, “was so masked, that but a slight difference could be perceived in the condition of slaves and hired servants. … The younger slaves not only ate and drank, but played with the children. They thus became familiar companions with each other. The black women were cooks and nurses, and as such assisted by their mistresses. … In this state of familiar intercourse, instances of cruelty were uncommon, and … caused a degree of indignation not much less than if committed upon a freeman.

“Under this condition of society, while Mum Bett resided in the family of Col. Ashley, she received a severe wound in a generous attempt to shield her sister. Her mistress in a fit of passion [had] resorted to a degree and mode of violence very uncommon in this country: she struck at the weak and timid [Lizzie] with a heated kitchen shovel: Mum Bett interposed her arm, and received the blow and she bore the honorable scar it left to the day of her death.”

The case was set in motion because Elizabeth had runaway and refused to return to her master. As stated in the Women’s History Blog, there was no way to force her to return so John Ashley petitioned the courts for the return of his “property” but ultimately would fail. Theodore Sedgwick was prepared to defend his clients to his fullest abilities.

“The case of Brom and Bett v. Ashley was heard in August 1781 before the County Court of Common Pleas in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Sedgwick and Reeve asserted that the constitutional provision that “all men are born free and equal” abolished slavery in the state.

The Ashley were represented by David Noble, who subsequently became a judge, and John Canfield, a respected lawyer from Sharon, Connecticut. They argued that “the said Brom and Bett, are and were at the time of Issuing the original Writ [of replevin], the legal Negro Servants of the said John Ashley during their Lives” and that this could be proved thus the suit should be dismissed. Sedgwick and Reeve countered by pleading: “(1) That no antecedent law had established slavery, and that the laws which seemed to suppose it were the offspring of error in the legislators…” and “(2) That such laws, even if they had existed, were annulled by the new Constitution.”

On August 22, 1781, the jury ruled in Freeman’s favor, and she became the first African-American woman to be set free under the Massachusetts Constitution. The jury found that “…Brom & Bett are not, nor were they at the time of the purchase of the original writ the legal Negro of the said John Ashley…”

Once Elizabeth Freeman earned the rights natural to any living person, she was also awarded thirty shillings in damages but this didn’t end the problem of what to do next. Many free slaves often ended up working for the masters regardless of freedom because choices and options were limited. The freed slave needed to earn an income for a place to live, food, and general survival leading to the need for employment.

John Ashley offered to hire Elizabeth Freeman as a paid household servant but that request was outright refused because she chose instead to work for the lawyer who defended her case. Elizabeth Freeman worked for Theodore Sedgwick and his second wife Ms. Pamela Dwight. The Ashley House Museum notes that Elizabeth Freeman was also a very pivotal person that aided in the health and care of Pamela Sedgwick.

“Once freed, Elizabeth Freeman had no property, little savings, and few options. But, for the first time, she was free to choose where to live and work. Col. Ashley offered her a position as a paid servant, but Freeman turned him down, and instead chose to work for Theodore Sedgwick. Freeman and her daughter Betsy moved with the Sedgwicks to Stockbridge. As head servant, Freeman nursed Theodore Sedgwick’s ailing wife Pamela and helped raise the couple’s seven children. “

Theodore Sedgwick (May 9th, 1746 to January 24, 1813)

Elizabeth Freeman became a valued member of the Sedgwick family as a servant and governess to Theodore and Pamela’s children. The Eldest Sedgwick daughter of the couple named Catherine Maria is said to have called Ms. Freeman “mumbet” from early childhood and later went on to write many papers about the life of her governess as a former slave who legally obtained freedom. Catharine Sedgwick would become a well know author of her time and has given a contemporary account of Ms. Elizabeth Freeman’s well lived life.

Freeman’s history shows that after about thirty years of being a servant for the Sedgwick, she eventually bought her own home. This was after her charges had grown and left their family home. Reports from the Elizabeth Freeman Center indicate that she mapped out a life for herself as helpful and useful person for those in her community always willing to assist those in need especially assisting those who were in bad health.

“As a free woman, Bet took the name Elizabeth Freeman. She worked as a governess in the Sedgwick household until the Sedgwick children were grown, and then she and Betsy bought and moved into their own house in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where she was widely recognized and in demand for her skills as a healer, midwife, and nurse.”

The purchase of her own property would occur in 1803, about twenty-two years after earning her own freedom. Throughout the years Elizabeth Freeman welcomed her children and their families to live on the 19-acre farm. The place was big enough and at certain points housed four generations of Freeman’s family along with close friends that had been invited to stay and live on the property. Elizabeth Freeman eventually became the second wealthiest black landowner in the area and truly paved the way for others to pursue their own cases for Freedom and thus effectively set the tone to end slavery in the state of Massachusetts during a time when nobody would have imagined it possible.

Elizabeth Freeman was a courageous, stubborn, and hardworking woman whose intelligence preserved through enslavement. At the age of eighty-five the world lost a valuable soul. The Ashley House Museum explains that she knew death was inevitable and this made her want to ensure a last will and testament was in place for her descendants to protect the property she owned so they could continue to be supported.

“On October 18, 1829, at the age of 85 and in poor health, Elizabeth Freeman created her last will and testament. She could not read or write, so she dictated it to a lawyer. She died two months later on December 28.A woman filing a will in the 19th century was unusual. A woman’s property legally belonged to her father or husband, unless she was widowed or not married, like Freeman. And most African Americans did not own much property, so they had had little reason to write a will.

Elizabeth Freeman’s will testifies to her incredible life journey. When she was enslaved, she did not even own herself. But by her life’s end, Freeman owned far more property than many of her neighbors.

Just two of Freeman’s possessions remain today: her gold beaded necklace and a miniature portrait showing Freeman wearing the beads. Few 19th-century Americans ever had their portraits painted. In fact, no portrait of Col. John Ashley survives. Sedgwick descendents donated the necklace and portrait to the Massachusetts Historical Society. They remain there, alongside the papers of presidents, governors, and Revolutionary heroes – further evidence of Freeman’s unusual life and lasting impact.”

BOOK PICK OF THE DAY

“A Free Woman On God’s Earth” The True Story of Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, The Slave Who WOn Her Freedom is the inspiring story of Mumbet, an enslaved African woman who lived in Sheffield, Massachusetts during Revolutionary War times. Owned by John and Hannah Ashley, Mumbet served eleven patriots as they wrote impassioned letters to King George demanding freedom from the British. Mumbet could not help but overhear their conversations. These Declaration of Greivances became the Sheffield Resolves, or the Sheffield Declaration, the precursor to the Declaration of Independence and the irony of the sentinments in this document was not lost on Mumbet. After a particularly brutal incident, where Mistress Hannah Ashley intends to strike a servant girl with a hot poker from the hearth, Mumbet puts her own arm up to block the blow and is burned to the bone. When she finally heals, she realizes she can no longer live enslaved and waits for the right moment. The moment comes in 1780 with the ratification of the Massachusetts Constitutuion, making into the law the words, “All men are created free and equal.” Mumbet takes these words and used them to sue for her freedom. On AUgust 21, 1781, she becomes a free woman.


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