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Mum Betts (Elizabeth Freeman) was the first slave to successfully sue for her freedom, encouraging Massachusetts to abolish slavery.
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In Sedgwick, she found the perfect person to represent her. He was looking to mount a legal attack against the practice of slavery, and through Bett and another slave attached to the cause, he'd discovered the perfect test case. On August 21, 1781,
Brom and Bett v. Ashley was first argued before the Court of Common Pleas.
It took only a day for the jury to find in the plaintiffs' favor. Bett and Brom were freed and awarded 30 shillings in damages. Ashley appealed the decision but quickly dropped the case. While he pleaded with Bett to return to his home as a paid servant, she refused, choosing instead to work for Sedgwick's family.
Another important legal challenge, headed up by African-American leader Prince Hall, involved three men who were abducted and taken as slaves to the West Indies. Their case, along with Bett's, pushed the slave trade in Massachusetts to its final days. The slave trade was officially ended in the Commonwealth on March 26, 1788, making it the first state in the Union to abolish it.
Meanwhile Bett, who changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman, grew incredibly close to the Sedgwick family, working for them for several years as a domestic servant. She saved enough money to eventually build her own house, where she raised her family. Some 100 years later, her great-grandson W.E. B. Dubois used his own writing to delve deep into the terrible impact racism had on all sectors of American society. Mum Bett lived until her mid 80s, passing away on December 28, 1829. She was buried in the Sedgwick family plot in Stockbridge.
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