Letter: Mum Bett's walk from Ashley Falls
In reference to Derek Gentile's Feb. 24 article ("A celebration of Mum Bett") Mum Bett did live in Ashley Falls, part of Sheffield. In order to sue for her freedom, she walked from there to Sheffield, not Stockbridge. Theodore Sedgwick then lived on what is now Main St., Sheffield. The Sedgwick house still stands there on Route 7 in Sheffield, a distinctive Greek Revival building, with wide, square, white columns, almost across the road from the Dan Raymond House.
The Sedgwick family moved to Stockbridge in 1785, four years after Mum Bett was freed. She moved with them, working as a paid servant, not for the rest of her life, but until 1808. That year, Pamela Sedgwick, Theodore's second wife, died. Eight months later Theodore married a Miss Penelope Russell, from Boston. Mum Bett, refusing to work for her beloved mistress's replacement, left the employ of the Sedgwicks at that time and retired to her own home, a "Negro dwelling," on 12 acres south of the Housatonic, in Stockbridge. She did die in 1829, and is buried in the family plot in Stockbridge, her epitaph written by Catherine Sedgwick.
Mum Bett was probably not struck in the face by Mrs. Ashley, as Mr. Gentile tells it. If you go to the Colonel Ashley house, the story you will hear there is as follows: Mrs. Hannah Ashley, angered that a young slave girl, possibly Mum Bett's daughter, had dared to taste the remaining cookie dough out a bowl she was cleaning, struck out at her with a hot poker. Mum Bett stuck her arm out to save the girl and was struck on her inner forearm, receiving a scar which she carried the rest of her life. This version of the story was written years later by Theodore Sedgwick's daughter, Catherine, who claimed she was told it by Mum Bett herself. One source I have used to verify this history is "In My Blood" by John Sedgwick, published in 2007.
We are very proud of Mum Bett in Sheffield. Mum Bett Day is celebrated at the Colonel Ashley house on Aug. 21 of every year, in Ashley Falls, part of Sheffield.
The writer is a member of the Sheffield Historical Society.
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