First to Freedom: Annual Celebration of Elizabeth Freeman Day to Explore the Journeys of New England’s Early Freedom Fighters

Artists and re-enactors will build a bridge across centuries at the historic Ashley House, invoking the courage and ideas of African Americans in the vanguard of ending slavery

Contact Information

Colleen Henry
Cultural Site Manager, Ashley House
413.298.3239 x3013

Elizabeth Freeman Day – Celebrating Freedom Fighters
Ashley House, 117 Cooper Hill Road, Sheffield, MA
Saturday, Aug 16, 2014 | 12Noon to 4PM

Sheffield, MAJuly 10, 2014 — Slavery began to crumble in Massachusetts when Elizabeth Freeman, then known as Mum Bett, walked out the door of the Ashley House after being struck by a hot fireplace shovel and never returned. On August 16th from Noon to 4pm, The Trustees of Reservations (the Trustees) will host Elizabeth Freeman Day at the Ashley House in Sheffield, MA, where Freeman first overheard the ideals of freedom and equality then compelling the American Revolution. The annual celebration marks the landmark 1781 court case when Freeman successfully sued for her freedom with an argument based on those founding ideals, setting a legal precedent that would ultimately help end slavery as an institution in Massachusetts, and honors the many volunteers, supporters, and partners who have worked hard to keep her story alive and recognized throughout the Berkshires.

This year’s Elizabeth Freeman Day will invoke the courage and ideas of early African American “Freedom Fighters” in the vanguard of ending slavery in the young United States. The grounds of the Ashley House will echo with the words and ideas that Freeman dare not speak during her time there as a slave, with actor and professional storyteller Tammy Denease performing “Mum Bett’s Story,” and the Town Players of Pittsfield enacting an original short play, “Mum Bett’s Minute .” Re-enactors of both Freeman and Sojourner Truth will also hold a conversation with one another, across generations, based on their individual lives and the events and ideas of their times. Though Elizabeth Freeman did not leave any writings behind, apart from legal documents, the novelist Catharine Maria Sedgwick published several accounts from her life, including the inspirational quote, “Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on God’s airth [sic] a free woman—I would.”

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Ashley House will also host an encampment of the Peter Brace Brigade of the Massachusetts’ 54th Colored Troops Co. E. based in Springfield, where visitors can mingle with historical re-enactors of the famed regiment. The Brigade offers insight on the life of African American soldiers in the Mass 54th Colored Troops Co. E along with the tents/furniture, weapons, cooking equipment and storytelling, and personifies the personal feelings of those longing to be free.  

The Colonel John Ashley House – the oldest house still standing in the Berkshires – came into the care and protection of The Trustees of Reservations, 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.

The legacy of Elizabeth Freeman’s courage in dismantling slavery in Massachusetts was recognized at the Massachusetts’ State House this past winter at a public ceremony sponsored by State Rep. William "Smitty" Pigantelli, D-Lenox, along with Reps. Byron Rushing and Russell Holmes, and the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, with a keynote address provided by Chief Justice Roderick Ireland. Rep. Pignatelli will offer the welcome at this year’s Elizabeth Freeman Day. In addition, The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, First Resistance Chapter (Berkshire County),will  recognize “Mum Bett” with a Women in American History Certificate for her role as a pioneer of women's rights while when seeking her freedom from slavery.  

Tours of the Ashley House will be provided throughout the day, and guests are invited to walk the trails of nearby Bartholomew’s Cobble Reservation, which was once owned by Col. Ashley. For more information about Elizabeth Freeman Day, please contact: Colleen Henry, Cultural Site Manager at the Ashley House at 413.298.3239 x3013 or email For an online, virtual exhibit about Elizabeth Freeman, visit:

More About The Trustees of Reservations and The Ashley House
Founded in 1891, The Trustees of Reservations is the nation’s oldest regional land trust and Massachusetts’ largest non-profit conservation organization. The organization’s mission is to hold in “trust” and “preserve, for public use and enjoyment, “reservations”, or properties, of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts.”

For over 120 years, The Trustees have worked to conserve the natural, cultural and scenic character that makes Massachusetts’ landscapes and communities unique. The Trustees own and manage 107 properties, totaling more than 27,000 acres, serve more than one million visitors each year. Supported by over 100,000 member families, generous donors and over 1,500 volunteers annually, The Trustees work to foster healthy, active, and green communities, with a new emphasis on encouraging sustainable, local agriculture and community gardens throughout Massachusetts.

The Ashley House is a property of The Trustees of Reservations, and is located at 117 Cooper Hill Road in the Ashley Falls section of Sheffield. In addition to telling the inspiring story of Elizabeth Freeman, the house also tells the closely related story of the Ashley family who were leaders of economic, political and social life in the southern Berkshires during the American Revolution. It is the oldest house still standing in the Berkshires and is part of a broader historical landscape preserved by The Trustees of Reservations which includes Bartholomew’s Cobble. Guided tours are offered summer weekends at 1PM and 2PM, and fall Saturdays at 1PM. Details at

About the Trustees of Reservations
The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) “hold in trust” and care for properties, or “reservations,” of irreplaceable scenic, cultural, and natural significance for the general public to enjoy. Founded by open space visionary Charles Eliot in 1891, The Trustees is the world’s oldest land trust and one of Massachusetts’ largest conservation and preservation non profits. Supported by more than 100,000 members and donors and thousands of volunteers, The Trustees own and manage 112 spectacular reservations including working farms, historic homesteads and landscaped gardens, community parks, barrier beaches, mountain vistas and woodland trials located on more than 26,000 acres throughout the Commonwealth. An established leader in the conservation and preservation movement and worldwide, The Trustees have also worked with community partners to protect an additional 34,000 acres. With hundreds of outreach programs, workshops, camps, concerts and events annually designed to engage all ages in its mission, The Trustees invite you to Find Your Place and get out and experience the natural beauty and culture our state has to offer. For more information, visit: