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18-06-2015, 23:10

Freeman, Elizabeth (Mum Bett or Mumbet)

(ca. 1740s-1829) enslaved African American Elizabeth Freeman was an African-American slave who had been born in New York and moved to Massachusetts some time in her youth to become the property of John Ashley of Sheffield. In the spring of 1781 she sued in the county civil court for her freedom. How the case was initiated is shrouded in folklore in part because of Mumbet’s later association with the famous Sedgwick family, including the novelist Catherine Sedgwick. Some stories highlight how she defended her sister from being struck by her master and then ran away and refused to continue in slavery. Another story was that she was inspired by the words of the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) or the Massachusetts “Declaration of Rights.” Or, as at least one historian has suggested, she may have been selected by some prominent local individuals, along with a slave man name Brom, as a convenient and willing participant in the court case. For whatever reason, Brom and Bett v. Ashley came to trial in the Berkshire court in August 1781 with the two slaves represented by Theodore Sedgwick and Tapping

Reeve, two of the ablest legal talents in the state. The court ruled that Brom and Bett were not the slaves of Ashley. That fall Ashley dropped his appeal to the state supreme court in the wake of the judgments in the Quok Walker case.

Mumbet continued to live in western Massachusetts for the rest of her life, raising a family, acting as a nurse and midwife, and serving the Sedgwick household.

See also abolition.

Further reading: Arthur Zilversmit, “Quok Walker, Mumbet, and the Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 25 (1968): 614-624.

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