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In the Classroom > African Americans Lessons > Three Great Women

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About Elizabeth Freeman (Mum Bett)

Elizabeth Freeman was a slave who lived in Massachusetts in the 1700s, more than 250 years ago. She and her sister lived with their master and mistress, Mr. and Mrs. Ashley. The Ashleys called Elizabeth “Mum Bett”. Mr. Ashley thought it was important that people living in Massachusetts have freedom and good laws to protect them. When he and his friends talked about this at his house, Mum Bett would listen to their conversations. She decided that since she lived in Massachusetts, she should have her freedom and be protected by these laws too, even though Mr. Ashley didn't think slaves should be included.

One day Mrs. Ashley got very mad at Mum Bett's sister and tried to hit her with a hot fireplace shovel. Mum Bett got in the way to protect her sister and the hot shovel hit her instead. Mum Bett was so angry that she left the house and asked a lawyer named Mr. Sedgwick to make Mr. Ashley free her. Mr. Sedgwick took Mum Bett's case to court and the jury decided that she could be free. The jury also decided that Mr. Ashley had to pay Mum Bett for the cost of hiring Mr. Sedgwick to work for her freedom.

Even though Mr. Ashley promised to pay Mum Bett for her work if she would return to his house, she went to work for Mr. Sedgwick instead. She was his housekeeper and he paid her for her work. She also worked as a nurse and helped mothers to have babies. Eventually, Mum Bett and her sister got their own house. On her gravestone it says she never “failed to perform a duty” and “she was the most efficient helper and the tenderest friend. Good mother, farewell.”.

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