How do you make the world more free? Sometimes, as Elizabeth Freeman said, “By keepin’ still and mindin’ things.”
August 22 is a pretty big anniversary thanks to a pretty influential person.
She was first known as Mum Bett, born in the mid 18th century and enslaved in several households, including the home of a Colonel Ashley in Sheffield, Massachusetts.
It was this Colonel Ashley that, in 1773, was moderator for a committee that wrote a declaration that said “mankind in a state of nature are equal, free, and independent of each other, and have a right to the undisturbed enjoyment of their lives, their liberty and property.”
You can draw a line between this language in the Sheffield Declaration and the Declaration of Independence three years later, as well as the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.
Mum Bett overheard all of this talk about equality and freedom and decided to find out why she wasn’t free or being treated equally. A lawyer helped her bring the case into the Massachusetts courts, and on August 22, 1781, a court found Mum Bett could not be the property of another human being and therefore was free and equal.
She took up paid work in her lawyer’s household, and chose a new and very appropriate name given her rights: Elizabeth Freeman.
While Sheffield, Massachusetts is where Elizabeth Freeman made her mark on history, Sheffield, England is where someone is making their mark on trees, by stapling bread to them.
Why? Because someone in the Sheffield area is following the lead of a community on Reddit known as – no surprise – Bread Stapled to Trees.
Locals weren’t sure what to make of this, though they did get some good puns out of it.
One guy wrote, “I wouldn’t mind a slice of the action, although in this weather, you’d be toast if you were found out.”
Jury Decides in Favor of Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman (MassMoments.org)
Painting via Wikicommons