First to Freedom: Celebrating Elizabeth Freeman

August 22, 1-4:30P
First to Freedom: Celebrating Elizabeth Freeman

Ashley House, 117 Cooper Road, Ashley Falls/Sheffield MA
presented by LEV, MultiCultural Bridge, Trustees of Reservations

Slavery began to crumble in Massachusetts when Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman successfully sued for her freedom from slavery and did it more than 80 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.


On Saturday, August 22nd, from 1-4:30PM, the Trustees will host an afternoon of activities to celebrate and illuminate the story of Elizabeth Freeman at the Ashley House in Sheffield, MA. Activities will include guided tours of the Ashley House, presentations of new artwork featuring Elizabeth Freeman by youth from the Berkshire’s Multicultural Bridge, and a performance by storyteller an actress Tammy Denease with her dramatic re-telling of “Mum Bet’s Story.” Readings from the recently released anthology, “Berkshire Mosaic, “will also be featured. Refreshments will be served.

The Colonel John Ashley House—where Elizabeth Freeman was enslaved—was built in 1735 and is the oldest house still standing in the Berkshires. It came into the care and protection of the Trustees, the nation’s oldest statewide land conservation organization, over forty years ago. With it came one of the most incredible stories of liberty and freedom to come out of Massachusetts: The intertwined lives of Colonel John Ashley, a patriot and author of the Sheffield Resolves – a pre-revolutionary petition against British tyranny and manifesto for individual rights – and Elizabeth Freeman, an African-American woman enslaved in the Ashley home and who was inspired by that same manifesto.

It was while she was there in the Ashley household, that Freeman first overheard the ideals of freedom and equality then compelling the American Revolution through conversations between Colonel Ashley and his political colleagues. She eventually sued with an argument based on those founding ideals, and that set a legal precedent that would ultimately help end slavery as an institution in Massachusetts.

The Ashley House is also open for tours during July and August on Saturdays and Sundays at 1PM and 2PM or for groups at other times by appointment. Or check out a self-guided exhibit in the Interpretive Center next to the house, which is open daily. Visitors can also walk the trails of nearby Bartholomew’s Cobble, a National Natural Landmark and which was once owned by Col. Ashley. For an online, virtual exhibit about Elizabeth Freeman, visit: