Elizabeth Freeman (1742-1829), known as Mum Bett, was the first female African-American slave in Massachusetts to sue for her freedom and win. Born into slavery in 1742, in Claverack, New York, she was given to the Ashley family of Sheffield, Massachusetts at a very young age. She served this family for nearly 40 years.
It was in the home of the Ashley’s that Elizabeth Freeman overheard the Massachusetts Constitution read aloud soon after the American Revolutionary War. She listened carefully to every word and realized that principals should apply to her as well.
Massachusetts Constitution Article 1:
“All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”
She sought out legal help to sue for her freedom. Theodore Sedgwick, an attorney and abolitionist, took her case to court in August 1781. When the jury ruled in Elizabeth Freeman’s favor, she became the first African-American woman to be set free under the Massachusetts constitution. Her case served as precedent in the State Supreme Court case that brought an end to slavery in the state of Massachusetts.
Elizabeth Freeman is an unsung American hero that led the way to freedom with her courage and insight. Share Her Story, she made history.
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