Birth:  1744

Death: December 28th, 1829 in Stockbridge, MA

Historical Role/Pertinence: Elizabeth Freeman was the first enslaved African American woman to successfully win a lawsuit and be granted freedom.

Elizabeth Freeman was initially known as Mum Bett. She was an enslaved woman in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Her master, Colonel Ashley was a judge and a member of the local committee who wrote the Sheffield Declaration. The ideas in that declaration about freedom for all mankind inspired Bett to fight for her freedom. Her case against Colonel Ashley argued that Bett should be granted freedom on the grounds that the practice of slavery contradicted the ideals presented in both the Sheffield Declaration and the Massachusetts Constitution. Bett successfully gained her freedom and became the first African-American woman to win a freedom lawsuit in Massachusetts. Her case made way for the “freedom suits” which outlawed enslavement in all of Massachusetts in 1783. Bett changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman in honor of her success and spent the last part of her life working as a paid domestic worker, healer, midwife, and nurse.

Associated Exhibits

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Works Cited

Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Elizabeth Freeman.” National Women’s History Museum. 2018-2019. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/elizabeth-freeman.

GBH News. “The story of Elizabeth Freeman and how slavery ended in Massachusetts.” GBH. 25 February 2022. https://www.wgbh.org/news/2022-02-25/the-story-of-elizabeth-freeman-and-how-slavery-ended-in-massachusetts.