4.6 Elizabeth Freeman: Suing for Freedom

Elizabeth Freeman: Suing for Freedom

Elizabeth Freeman (also known as Mumbet) was a slave in Massachusetts when she heard that all men are created free and equal. If that’s so, she thought, why am I a slave? In 1781, she sued, and she won.

Selected Sources and Images

The major source for today is Catherine Sedgwick’s 1853 article on her former nanny, Elizabeth Freeman. The full text is available here. The full text of the Sheffield Declaration is also interesting and dripping with irony from the point of view of a slave.

The Massachusetts state government has an article on the abolition of slavery in their state as well as one on John Adams and the 1780 Constitution. The full text of that constitution is available here.

I also used the following articles from JSTOR:

  • Browne-Marshall, Gloria J. “1619 to 1819: Tell Them We Fought Back, A Socio-Legal Perspective.” Phylon (1960-) 57, no. 1 (2020): 37–55.
  • Kelley, Mary, and Catharine Maria Sedgwick. “Negotiating a Self: The Autobiography and Journals of Catharine Maria Sedgwick.” The New England Quarterly 66, no. 3 (1993): 366–98.
  • MacEacheren, Elaine. “Emancipation of Slavery in in Massachusetts: A Reexamination 1770-1790.” The Journal of Negro History 55, no. 4 (1970): 289–306.

This portrait of Elizabeth Freeman is from 1812, when one of the Sedgwick children painted her.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth Freeman’s gravestone, with a tribute from the Sedgwick family.

Image Source

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