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Mum Betts (Elizabeth Freeman)
Mum Betts (Elizabeth Freeman) was born sometime in 1742 as a slave in Massachusetts. Mum Betts, who later changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman, is known for becoming the first African-American slave to sue her owners and win her freedom. Her win helped end the slave trade in the new Commonwealth Of Massachusetts.
In 1781, Mum Betts was struck by her owners’ wife, Hannah Ashley, during an attempt to protect another slave who could have been her sister. The story goes that the owners wife became angry with the other slave girl and attempted to viciously attack her with an extremely hot kitchen shovel. Mum Bett’s stepped in and took the attack for the young girl. The attack left Mum Betts permanently scarred on her face.
After the attack Mum Betts left the home of her owners and sought out the help of Theodore Sedgwick. Theodore was an abolitionist, an attorney and a future US Senator. Believing that she had rights of her own, both Mum Betts and Sedgwick used her case along with another case similar to her own to launch an attack on the practice of slavery.
The case of Brom and Bett v. Ashley was argued before the court of Common Pleas on August 21, 1781. After one day of deliberation, both Bett and Brom won their cases and were granted their freedom and 30 shillings for damages. Bett and the other plantiff became the first African American slaves to be freed under the Massachusetts constitution of 1780
After the case, John Ashley made several attempts to get Bett to return to their home as a servant for pay, but Bett refused and instead choose to work for Theodore Sedgwick and his family which enabled her to save enough money to build a home for her and her family.
Her case and another involving three black men who were abducted and forced to become slaves in the West Indies helped end the slave trade in Massachusetts. On March 26, 1788, the slave trade was officially abolished making Massachusetts the first state in the Union to abolish the slave trade.
It is also worth mentioning that her great-grandson is W.E.B Dubois.