Archive for the ‘Mumbet’ Category

“She could neither read nor write … “

In 1781, Elizabeth, later known as Mum Bett or Mumbet, was a slave in the household of Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield, Massachusetts. When the mistress of the house, in a fit of pique, raised a hot kitchen shovel to strike another slave, Elizabeth took the blow on her arm. Refusing to put up with such behavior, Elizabeth left the household and refused to come back. When her master went to
court to regain possession of his slave, Elizabeth fled to the law office of Theodore Sedgwick and asked him to represent her and another slave. Sedgwick and his law partner agreed to do so and secured their freedom, arguing that the bill of rights in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 applied to them. Elizabeth, taking the name of Freeman, became a member of the Sedgwick household where she was affectionately called “Mumbet.” When she died, she was buried in the Sedgwick plot in the Stockbridge, Massachusetts cemetery, where you can see her grave with the tombstone the family erected. The inscription on it reads:

known by the name of
died Dec. 28 1829.
Her supposed age
was 85 Years.

She was born a slave and
remained a slave for nearly
thirty years. She could nei-
ther read nor write yet in
her own sphere she had no
superior nor equal. She nei-
ther wasted time nor property.
She never violated a trust, nor
failed to perform a duty.
In every situation of domes-
tic trial, she was the most effi-
cient helper, and the tenderest
friend. Good mother Fare well.

This excerpt is from In the Words of Women, Chapter 8, pages 219-20. Mumbet’s portrait, a watercolor on ivory by Susan Anne Livingston Ridley Sedgwick, is at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.

posted March 12th, 2012 by Janet, Comments Off on “She could neither read nor write … “, CATEGORIES: Mumbet,Slaves/slavery

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