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Victory

February is Black History Month. Elizabeth Freeman (c.1744 – December 28, 1829), a/k/a “Bet, Mum Bett”, or “MumBet”, was the first enslaved African American to file and win a “freedom suit” in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found slavery to be inconsistent with the 1780 Massachusetts State Constitution. Her suit, Brom and Bett v. Ashley (1781), was cited in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court appellate review of Quock Walker's freedom suit. The court upheld Walker's freedom under the state's constitution, the ruling was considered to have ended slavery in Massachusetts. What is known of her life is anecdotal. She was reputed to have had a strong spirit and sense of self … almost inconceivable given her birth into slavery and treatment while a slave. She was raised in the Dutch colony of New York. In 1780 she shielded a little girl from being struck with a heated shovel. She prominently displayed the evidence of her wounded arm as testament to the harsh treatment she had and continued to receive.


In 1780, she heard the newly ratified Massachusetts Constitution read in public which provided in relevant part in Article 1 that: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.Freeman sought counsel of a yound and “abolition-minded” lawyer, Theodore Sedgwick, to file a freedom suit for her. Sedgwick, with the help of two other prominent Massachusetts attorneys, filed suit. The case of Brom and Bett v. Ashley was heard in August 1781 before the County Court of Common Pleas in Great Barrington. The jury found in favor of her assertion that the constitutional provision that "all men are born free and equal" effectively abolished slavery in the state. The jury further held that she was not ever the legal property of the alleged owner, John Ashley, and awarded her compensation for her labor. It was then that she took the name Elizabeth Freeman.


She once 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 airth [sic] a free woman— I would.” Elizabeth Freeman MI



She once 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 airth [sic] a free woman— I would.” Elizabeth Freeman MI

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