Elizabeth Freeman, one of the most successful abolitionists of the 18th century, was raised in Massachusetts during very exciting times. As a young slave in the house of Colonel John Ashley, Freeman heard the frequent family discussions of a possible freedom from British rule.
As the tension between the colonists and the British continued to grow, and Thomas Jef¬ ferson s Declaration of Independence became the topic of everyone’s conversa¬ tion, Elizabeth Freeman became convinced that she too was free.
In 1781, Freeman, deciding to prove her theory, ran away from the Ashley home and contacted a young lawyer named Theodore Sedgwick.
She explained that since the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the passage of the Massachusetts Constitution, she too was a free woman. Though she knew it was dangerous, she refused to return. Sedgwick was won over by Freeman’s argument and agreed to represent her in court.
That same year, the county court in Great Barrington, Massachusetts heard such elo¬ quent statements from both Freeman and Sedgwick, that not only was Elizabeth Freeman granted her freedom, but based on the state constitution, slavery was declared illegal. Elizabeth Freeman was given thirty shillings in damages from the Ash¬ ley family, as ordered by the judge, and went to work for the Sedgwick family. Earning her own living as a free woman, she stayed on until her death in 1829.
Because of Freeman’s courage and commitment, slavery was outlawed in the state of Massachusetts, and later in the rest of the nation. It was women and men like Elizabeth Free¬ man and Theodore Sedg¬ wick who finally validated the Declaration of Indepen¬ dence in the United States. Without them to begin the fight for equality, the essential truth of the docu- • ment might have been lost.