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Resources to Support Boston's Black Initiatives to Freedom

Focus: What might you deduce about the network supporting black initiatives particularly in Massachusetts from the following resources?


Image: Elizabeth Freeman (Mumbet)

Legal case: Brom & Bett vs J. Ashley Esq, 1781

Note: Six years before ratification of the United States Constitution in 1789, and 20 years before Marbury v. Madison firmly established the principle of judicial review on a national level in 1803, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recognized the supremacy of the Massachusetts Constitution. Conceived and ratified by a unique and democratic process, the Constitution "justified and indeed compelled" judges to act so as to enforce its provisions over laws and customs that otherwise conflicted with it.
  • Massachusetts Historical Society - Long Road - Mum Bett

  • Mass. Moments - Mum Bet Freeman

  • Children's picture book based on the 1781 legal case:
    • Felton, Harold. Mumbet - The Story of Elizabeth Freeman. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1970. (63 pages)
    Summary: Elizabeth Freeman of Sheffield, Massachusetts bought as a slave by John Ashley in 1735, filed for, and won her freedom in 1773. She worked for the Sedgwick family and much is attested to her loyalty, character, and nursing ability. For her respect, she earned the name Mumbet. She challenges the law in Massachusetts, which allows her to gain her freedom in the courts.
  • Primary Sources:

  • Catharine Maria Sedwick, 1853 manuscript - "Mumbett" (manuscript draft)

  • Original court records are in the custody of the Supreme Judicial Court, Division of Archives and Records Preservation.


  • Using the map portion of the pamphlet provided by the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage entitled Mum Bett's Trail, elaborate upon Mum Bett's life in the Sheffield, Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Lee area of Massachusetts

  • Image: Quock Walker Legal Notes

    Legal case, Supreme Judicial Court: Quock Walker Case, 1783
  • Massachusetts Historical Society - African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts - Quock Walker

  • Long Road to Justice - MHS - Quock Walker
  • Primary Sources:

  • The Quock Walker Case: "Instructions to the Jury"

  • Legal notes by William Cushing about the Quock Walker Case


  • Sarah Roberts

    Legal case: Sarah C. Roberts vs The City of Boston, 1849
  • Book:

    Kendrick, Stephen and Kendrick, Paul. Sarah's Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle for Equality Changed America. Boston: Beacon Press, 2005. (291 ps.)

    In 1847, a five-year-old African American girl named Sarah Roberts was forced to walk past five white schools to attend the poor and densely crowded all-black Abiel Smith School on Boston's Beacon Hill. Incensed that his daughter had been turned away at each white school, her father, Benjamin, sued the city of Boston on her behalf. The historic case that followed set the stage for over a century of struggle, culminating in 1954 with the unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education. (Beacon Press)
  • Primary Sources:

  • Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    Sarah C. Roberts vs The City of Boston, November Term, 1849 Challenge:


  • Who lived on Beacon Hill ? A Demographic Study of the North Slope of Beacon Hill in 1818
  • Explain how "Colored Scholars Excluded from School" - an etching from 1839 relates to the Sarah Roberts Case.
  • A strong interrelationship existed between the people of color who had run from slavery, those who were freed from slavery, and the people of Boston. Using such characters as Attorney Robert Morris, Charles Sumner, Benjamin Roberts, William Cooper Nell, William Lloyd Garrison, David Walker and his Appeal prove your point.

  • Lewis Hayden's House
  • NARA Teaching with Documents: - Fugitives from Labor (Lewis Hayden)

  • Lewis Hayden's Conversation with Harriet Beecher Stowe

  • Book: Runyon, Randolph. Delia Webster and the Underground Railroad. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996.
  • Challenge:

    Lewis Hayden was an involved Bostonian -
  • a fugitive from labor
  • the owner of a second-hand clothes store
  • indicted in the Shadrach Minkins trial
  • a recruiter for the 54th Regiment that trained at Readville during the Civil War.
  • Louis Hayden, Massachusetts Legislature, Boston, MA (photo)

    Write a fitting obituary for Lewis Hayden.

  • Ellen and William Craft
  • Craft Narrative: Running A Thousand Miles for Freedom: or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery. London: William Tweedie, 1860.

    Excerpt page 93: We shall always cherish the deepest feelings of gratitude to the Vigilance Committee of Boston (upon which were many of the leading abolitionists), and also to our numerous friends, for the very kind and noble manner in which they assisted us to preserve our liberties and to escape from Boston,

  • Book: Freedman, Florence. Two Tickets to Freedom .. The True Story of Ellen and William Craft, Fugitive Slaves. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971. (93 ps.)

    Ellen Craft, a slave, poses as a white Southern planter traveling with his slave (her husband) from Macon, Georgia to Philadelphia to Boston in 1848.

  • Book: Rappaport, Doreen. Escape From Slavery: Five Journeys To Freedom. NY: Harper Collins, 1991. (117 ps)

    Five accounts of black slaves who managed to escape to freedom during the period preceding the Civil War
  • Challenge:

  • Reading and analyzing the 1850 Census, what can we learn about a section of Boston during the time of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850? (transcription)

  • Proof of fugitive slaves, Ellen and William Craft, living in Boston! Explain why you suspect the Craft census information might have been given to the census taker.
  • Anthony Burns
  • Chronology of Anthony Burns, his capture, the local Boston uproar, the court system trial
  • Book: Hamilton, Virginia. Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of A Fugitive Slave. NY: Knopf, 1993. (193 ps)

    A biography of the slave, who escaped to Boston in 1854, was arrested at the instigation of his owner, determined to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, and whose trial caused conflict.
  • Challenge:
  • Examine the checks made out to Rev. Leonard Grimes and put together the behind-the-scenes story of abolitionists working together in this Anthony Burns financial transaction.

  • Shadrach Minkins
  • Moments in the life of Shadrach Minkins

  • 1851 Shadrach Minkins - The Long Road, Massachusetts Historical Society

    On an order from President Millard Fillmore, nine abolitionists, including Robert Morris, were indicted. Charges against some were dismissed, while others, including Morris and Hayden, faced a jury in court. Ultimately, each was acquitted.

  • Book: Collison, Gary. Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997. (290 ps.)
  • Primary Sources:

  • July 23, 1849 sheriff's sale advertisement Norfolk and Portsmouth Herald (in Collison, p. 31)

  • 1851 Boston Indictment in Shadrach Minkins trial
    Cast of involved characters: Lawyers Robert Morris, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Ellis Gray Loring, Samuel E. Sewall offered their services as Minkins' counsel. Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. Crowd of black and white abolitionists surround the courthouse, Minkins escapes and makes his way to Canada.


    Compose an encyclopedia entry for Shadrach Minkins' life.
  • Boston Vigilance Committee
  • The City of Boston's last year for double listing of colored and white Bostonians in the Boston City Directory - - People of Color: The 1848-49 Boston City Directory.

  • Background - Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad
  • Primary Sources:

  • Vigilance Committee of Boston - Account Book of Francis Jackson, Treasurer (download)


    From the Account Book of Francis Jackson, Treasurer of the Vigilance Committee of Boston, glean information that supports an extensive involvement of individuals providing service for the abolitionist work in Boston.

  • 54th Recruitment,
    Readville, MA

    Man Kidnapped, Boston, MA

    Caution!! Colored People of Boston, April 24, 1851

  • Narrative of the Life of Henry "Box" Brown written by himself.

  • Harriet Jacobs' recollections

  • 1851 Thomas Sims Petition

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