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date: 07 April 2020

Freeman, Elizabeth (“Mum Bett”)locked

(c. 1744; d. 28 December 1829), the first enslaved black woman to successfully sue for her freedom,
  • Taunya Lovell Banks

Extract

in Massachusetts in 1781. “I heard that paper read yesterday that says, ‘all men are born equal, and that every man has a right to freedom.’ I am not a dumb critter; won’t the law give me my freedom?” According to Catherine Sedgewick, Elizabeth Freeman said this to Theodore Sedgewick, a young Massachusetts lawyer who was Catherine’s father.

Elizabeth Freeman, an enslaved black woman also known as Mum Bett (or Mumbet), was born in Claverack, New York, and sold to Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield Massachusetts She approached Theodore Sedgewick after hearing the Declaration of Independence read at the village meetinghouse in Sheffield Another account claims that Freeman overheard talk about the Massachusetts state constitutional provision while waiting on tables There is at least one possible explanation for the conflict over the legal source of Freeman s claim She may have asked about the Declaration of ...

A version of this article originally appeared in Black Women in America, 2nd ed.

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