Mum Bett Claverack to Sheffield Slavery to Freedom
“Mother of Freedom”
Bett was born about 1744 at
Claverack in the household of
Jannetje Muldor (Muller/Miller) and
Pieter Maase Hogeboom.
Jeane M. LaPorta
Historian Town of Claverack, N.Y.
March 20, 2015
Claverack Hogeboom Family
• Well respected, prolific family immigrated to
the Hudson Valley from the Netherlands.
• Pieter Masse was born near present day
Kinderhook about 1675 and became a well
respected farmer of the southern van
• Property noted J Hogeboom located on the vR 1767 tenant map
“….them being slavery days”
• In order to accomplish the enormous work of taming the wilds of the
Hudson Valley wilderness many strong hands were required to do the
• Not just the rich and famous or the large wealthy southern plantations
that utilized slave labor.
• In fact, it was common to the small farms of the Hudson Valley to
maintain at least one field hand, a slave, who worked side-by-side with the
property owner most had a few.
• While most people don’t associate slave trade with the Northern colonies
it was, in fact, a thriving business. Sadly, well respected shipping lines, the
Dutch West India company among them and pirates, traded goods, and,
human cargo through Manhattan and over boarders for profit.
• The first minister to the CDRC , Rev Johannis Casparus Freyenmoet 1756,
had several slaves. They rest in the cemetery in Claverack, graves marked
A little girl from Claverack
• Bett was born in Claverack of African parents who were
slaves attached to the Pieter Hogeboom house hold.
• Bett would have used the family surname of record.
• From an early age Bett’s training was practical
including: household duties as a serving maid,
cooking, cleaning, sewing but she is remembered as a
nurse and midwife.
• Bett had no formal academic education of note. She
was not taught to read or write. (The CDRC did have
bible school for slave children and “negroes” and slave
children were baptized there. Bett specifically does not
appear in the CDRC archives.)
Bett is moved to Sheffield
Massachusetts from Claverack
• About 1758 Bett, along with her younger sister
Lizzy, were removed from the Hogeboom
household to the Ashley homestead at Sheffield
• It is unsubstantiated whether Bett was a
“wedding gift”, part of the “dowry” or if she was
purchased by Colonel John Ashley but she was
moved from Claverack in her early teens.
• Annetje “Hannah” [English] Hogeboom, a
younger daughter of Pieter and Jannetje, married
Colonel John Ashley a founder of Sheffield.
Ashley homestead and home of Bett from
c1858 through 1781
Cooper Road Sheffield Massachusetts
Claverack girl educated by learned men of
• While serving as a maid for Hannah Hogeboom Ashley, Bett
waited on the committee of 11 gentlemen from nearby
towns when they met to write out the Sheffield Resolves,
manifesto against British domination.
• The colonel was active in the formation of the “Sheffield
Resolves” a precursor of the Declaration of Independence.
• Bett absorbed their words for she is quoted later as
• “..Mankind in their natural state are born free and equal…”
These words must have struck her forcefully.
Bett’s talent afforded her unusual
• As the occasion warranted, Bett was loaned out to attend the needs
of neighbors and friends. A skilled nurse to the sick and midwife,
Bett earned a level of self determination and trust that was not
ordinary between slave and master.
• Bett had a high level of autonomy which played a role in the life she
dreamed of achieving for herself.
• Of note, slavery was rationalized but not generally well viewed in
the northeast and New England colonies. There were many
• Some offered biblical citations to support the notion of slave
master relationships but generally abolitionist leanings were strong
while “looking the other way” was the norm.
• The Revolutionary War delayed antislavery legislation in NYS, Mass
and Ct where abolitionist sentiments ran high.
Article 1; Bett’s case
• Political meetings at the home of John Ashley
introduced Bett to the notion of personal
freedom in the form of the “Sheffield Resolves”
(which predated the Declaration of
• During meetings at the Ashley house, Bett
became acquainted with and befriended
Theodore Sedgwick, a Stockbridge attorney and
abolitionist who wrote the Sheffield Resolves.
• Bett ran away from the Ashley home and never
Brom and Bett vs Ashley
• Brom and Bett were both slaves of the Ashley
household. Together they appealed to Theodore
Sedgwick to help them sue for freedom, based on
article 1 of the constitution of the common wealth,
which they had heard read in Sheffield. The
Constitution was passed on Oct 25, 1780.
• Their case was heard by the court of common pleas in
Great Barrington, August 1781.
• The jury ruled in Bett’s favor and she became the first
slave set free under the constitution. She was awarded
damages for being held a slave and unpaid labor.
• This was a land mark case, Brom and Bett vs Ashley
served as a precedent in the State Supreme Court.
Significant to abolition Commonwealth of Mass.
Miss Elizabeth Freeman
• After winning her freedom, Bett took the surname
• She entered employment at the household of
Theodore Sedgwick where she worked as a governess
to the Sedgwick children and helped to care for their
• The Sedgwick’s affectionately referred to her as
• Elizabeth, Mumbet, Freeman passed December 28,
1829, two years after the end of slavery in NYS.
• Ms Freeman rests in the Sedgwick plot, Stockbridge
Sedgwick home Stockbridge
Life as a free woman
Died December 28, 1829.
Her supposed age was 85 years.
She was born a slave,
and remained a slave for nearly thirty years:
She could neither read nor write,
Yet in her own sphere she had no
Superior nor equal: she neither
Wasted time of property: she
Never violated a trust, nor failed to
Perform a duty. In every situation
Of domestic trial, she was the most
Efficient helper and the tenderest friend.
Good MOTHER FAREWELL….
Photo: public domain. CCHS, Mum Bett. Carroll, John. Kinderhook, NY. Summer Fall 2006
Elizabeth Freeman; last will and testament
bequeaths her property, household possessions and clothing to her
family and her mother’s shawl to her granddaughter.
Water color portrait with gold bead necklace featured below.
Bett was quoted
• “Anytime while I was a slave, if one minutes
freedom had been offered me, and I had been
told that I must die after that minute, I would
have taken it just to stand one minute on
God’s airth [earth] a free woman. I would.”
• The Sheffield Resolves, a petition against British dominion
and a statement appealing for human rights was approved
by the Town of Sheffield, January 12, 1773. Meetings to
formulate the Resolves took place at the home of Colonel
John and Hannah Ashley, Sheffield Falls.
• The Resolves were debated and approved by the
committee of eleven local men including: Deacon Silas
Kellog, Col. John Ashley (chairman), Dr. Lemuel Bernard,
Aaron Root, Mjr John Fellows, Philip Callender, Capt.
William Day, Deacon Ebenezer Smith, Capt. Daniel Austin,
Capt. Stephen Dewey, Theodore Sedgwick.
• First Resolution: “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
Abolition time line Northeast US
1780 Pennsylvania gradual end of slavery
1783 Massachusetts/Maine (Maine was part of Mass) immediate end to slavery
1783 New Hampshire gradual end
1784 Connecticut gradual end to slavery
1784 Rhode Island gradual end
1799 NYS gradual elimination with final end of slavery 1827
1804 New Jersey gradual end
1770-1810 Vermont gradual ending of slave and slave trading out of state
Ashley House Historic Site Exhibition. The Trustees of Reservations. Ashley Falls, Mass. 2015.
Carroll, John. “Mum Bett”. Columbia Count History & Heritage. Volume 5. Number 2. CCHS. Kinderhook, NY. Summer Fall.
2006. p. 19.
Coulbourn,, John Dr. “A History of the Reformed Dutch Church of Claverack. 250th Anniversary celebration of the RDCC.
New York. 1966.
Jackson, Nancy. “Elizabeth Freeman’s Journey Liberty for All”. American Spirit. Vol 148. No. 2. NSDAR . Washington D.C.
March/April 2004. p 19.
Kelly, Arthur, C.M., transcribed & indexed. Baptism Record of the Reformed Church Claverack (Columbia County) New York.
1727-1899. Kinship. Rhinebeck, NY 12572.
Sedgwick, Susan Ridley. Portrait of Elizabeth Freeman. Water color on ivory c1812. e-domain. Massachusetts Historical
Society. Retrieved 2015.
Ungar, Jay & Mason, Molly. Prairie Spring slides 1-13, Solstice Hymn slides 14-23. Harvest Home. Music For All Seasons.
Produced by Ungar, Mason and Squires with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra et al. 1999.