berkshires (and history)

by sam on 05/28/2018

In march, I went up to the Berkshires for a few days for passover, and in addition to cooking (and eating!), I took a walk around town.  I’ve probably posted pictures of some of these local houses before, but they’re just so…photogenic…that it’s hard to resist.

I took a walk up to the Ashley house, which is probably our town’s most historically significant place. Obviously the town and the falls are named after Colonel Ashley, but more importantly, this house was where the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts was born.  Despite Colonel Ashley, not because of him.

Slate’s podcast on The History of American Slavery (premium subscribers only) did an entire episode on Elizabeth Freeman, and wikipedia gives a good breakdown of her life and case. But the short version is that while Elizabeth Freeman (then known as Mum Bett) was a slave in Ashley’s house, she heard all of these ‘revolutionary’ men discussing the declaration of independence and the constitution, and in particular the concept that “all men are created equal”. And so she went to a lawyer in Great Barrington and sued for her own freedom. And won.

There were a few subsequent cases that ultimately abolished slavery in totality in Massachusetts, but they all cite back to Brom & Bett vs. Ashley as the foundational basis for their decisions.

And after the case, Ashley tried to get Freeman to come back and work for wages, and she basically told him to go pound sand – she spend the rest of her life working in “town” for the family of the lawyer who helped free her. The Ashley house is now largely a historical site that explains the history of Elizabeth Freeman.

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