A statue commemorates a former slave who won her freedom in court

A statue commemorates a former slave who won her freedom in courtThe tale of the enslaved woman who went to court more than 80 years before the Emancipation Proclamation to seek her freedom has been relegated to the margins of history.

A coalition of civic leaders, activists, and historians hope Sunday’s installation of a bronze monument of the lady who adopted the name Elizabeth Freeman after she escaped slavery exactly 241 years ago will change that.

Her narrative, although astounding, is mostly unknown.

Representative William “Smitty” Pignatelli grew up in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, not far from Sheffield, but did not hear her tale until almost twenty years ago. He discovered that many of his Statehouse colleagues were also unaware of the importance of her case, which established the legal precedent that effectively abolished slavery in Massachusetts.

Democrat Pignatelli said, “She is undeniably a secret character in American history, and I really feel that Black history is American history.” “However, Black history is not something we have been taught or informed about.”

Bett, the enslaved lady, could not read nor write, but she listened.

And what she heard was incomprehensible.

While she worked as a slave in Col. John Ashley’s home, he and other important Sheffield residents discussed their problems with British rule. In the Sheffield Resolves of 1773, it was stated that “mankind in a condition of nature is equal, free, and independent of each other.”

In 1780, Article 1 of the Massachusetts Constitution said, “All men are born free and equal and have certain inherent, necessary, and inalienable rights.”

Paul O’Brien, president of the Sheffield Historical Society, believes that after hearing a public reading of the constitution, Bett walked approximately 5 miles to the home of attorney Theodore Sedgwick, one of the citizens who drafted the Sheffield Resolves, and asked him to represent her in her legal quest for freedom.

The lawsuit was taken up by Sedgwick and another attorney, Tapping Reeve.

At the time, women in Massachusetts courts had limited legal powers, therefore a male slave called Brom from the Ashley family was joined to the case.

On August 21, 1781, the jury agreed with the counsel and released Bett and Brom.

Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and his wife, Diane, are Berkshires residents who have been prominent in fundraising and organizational initiatives. They are leading the ceremony on Sunday.

“What I admire about the narrative is that this extraordinary lady, who was enslaved, occasionally brutalized, and illiterate, listened intently while the men she was serving debated life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as ‘inalienable rights'” Patrick, the first Black governor of the state, said in an email. “I like the fact that this weak lady was able to envision these potent thoughts as her own and convince others to explore this hypothesis. And I appreciate that the Massachusetts courts had the moral fortitude to take her inquiry seriously.”

Pignatelli was inspired to erect a monument of Freeman after attending the installation of a statue of Susan B. Anthony in Adams, the Berkshire County town where the suffragist was born, the year before.

He gathered stakeholders and funded around $280,000, enough for the roughly 8-foot monument and a scholarship fund in honor of Freeman for local high school students.

Gwendolyn VanSant, the chief executive officer of BRIDGE, a local organization that promotes racial understanding and fairness, is in charge of the scholarship program.

She described Freeman as an icon and a pioneer. “It’s incredible for me as an African American woman to be following in her shoes,” she remarked.

Ashley requested Freeman to return to his family as a hired servant after the court battle, but she declined and instead went to work with Sedgwick, where she helped raise his children and was affectionately known as Mumbet.

Democratic Senate candidate in Wisconsin led a state commission on racism and climate change

Are non-KYC crypto exchanges as secure as their counterparts that comply with KYC?

VanSant said that she was a healer, nurse, and midwife who purchased her own home in neighboring Stockbridge.

Mumbet was buried with the Sedgwicks, the sole non-family person in the family grave, after she passed away in 1829 at around the age of 85. Catharine Maria Sedgwick, one of Theodore Sedgwick’s daughters, wrote most of what historians know about her, O’Brien added.

The statue by famous sculptor Brian Hanlon will be put on the site of the First Congregational Church in Sheffield, next to the Sedgwick residence.

O’Brien said, “We do not know whether Elizabeth Freeman attended church, but Ashley did, and it was usual for slave owners to bring slaves to church to watch their children.”

Despite the fact that 200 people are due to attend the unveiling on Sunday, the finale of three days of festivities, organizers have been unable to locate any of Freeman’s relatives.

VanSant expects that a permanent monument would increase interest in Freeman’s tale. “Perhaps her descendants will locate us,” she said.

Keep obsessing! Book Mark OL NEWS for the Daily News newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.

Leave a Comment