1742 - 1829
She was born to enslaved parents in New York and sold as an infant, along with her sister, to John Ashley of Sheffield, Massachusetts.
She became known as Mum Bett and her daughter was Little Bett. Her husband was killed while fighting in the Revolutionary War.
After suffering mistreatment by Mrs. Ashley, Mum Bett asked Theodore Sedgewick to help her sue for her freedom. She had overheard discussion of the new Massachusetts state constitution and the Bill of Rights, that all people were born free and equal. She believed those laws applied to her, too.
Along with another of Ashley's slaves, Brom, Sedgewick argued the case for their freedom before the court and the jury ruled in their favor.
Mum Bett and Brom were the first African American slaves to be freed under the Massachusetts constitution of 1780.
This case set a precedent for future cases, and ultimately let to slavery being abolished in Massachusetts.
Upon being freed, Mum Bett changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman.