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Elizabeth Freeman, Ashley House, and Bartholomew’s Cobble

March 20th, 2020 by Corey A. Edwards

Mumbet Elizabeth FreemanElizabeth Freeman was the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts. You can learn more about her extraordinary story at historic Ashley House near Bartholomew’s Cobble, just a half hour south of Applegate Inn.

Elizabeth Freeman (c. 1744 – 1829), also known as “Mumbet,” was born into slavery around 1744 in Claverack, New York. At the age of 7, she was sent to Sheffield, MA and the house of John Ashley, who had married her master’s daughter.

In 1780, Freeman heard a reading of the newly ratified Massachusetts Constitution. Its statement that “all men are born free and equal” inspired her to fight for her freedom. In 1781, a Great Barrington jury agreed with her, making her the first African-American woman set free under the Massachusetts Constitution.

With a motion picture on Freeman’s life under development, her relatively unknown story is about to get a lot more notice. Until that time, one of the best ways to learn about her is to visit the Ashley House in Sheffield, MA.

The Colonel John Ashley House

117 Cooper Hill Road, Sheffield, MA 01257

Ashley House in Sheffield MA

“Colonel John Ashley House Sheffield, MA” by Daderot
is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Colonel John Ashley built the house in 1735. Ashley was a staunch supporter of the American Revolution and headed a committee responsible for the Sheffield Resolves, a precursor to the Declaration of Independence. It’s even possible the Sheffield Resolves were drafted here in the Ashley House.

Ironically, Ashley was also a slave owner and his own rhetoric inspired Elizabeth Freeman to sue him for her freedom.

Learn about these and other historical events in greater depth with a visit to the historic Colonel John Ashley House. See how people lived during the 1800’s through original furniture, tools, a fine collection of redware, and more.

The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also part of the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail and the Berkshire 18th Century Trail.

Learn more at the Ashley House website.

Bartholomew’s Cobble

Maidenhair Spleenwort at Bartholomews Cobble105 Weatogue Rd, Sheffield, MA 01257
If you enjoy beautiful scenery and a chance to get out into nature, you’ll be happy to read that The Ashley House is adjacent to Bartholomew’s Cobble. A 294-acre nature preserve with 5 miles of hiking trails, wildlife, and a wealth of unusual plants.

Bartholomew’s Cobble Cobble is the site of an ancient inland sea. The area’s rocky outcroppings are mainly quartzite and marble. The alkaline soil supports over 800 species of plants, including one of the country’s largest diversity of ferns.

The Cobble is also an excellent place for wildlife, serving as a stopover or home for over 200 species of birds. Birders and shutterbugs: be sure to have your camera at the ready!

The Cobble’s mostly moderate hiking trails traverse a wide range of habitat, including beaver ponds, caves, freshwater marshes, and forests. One even ascends the 1,000 foot peak of Hurlburt’s Hill, providing panoramic views of the Housatonic River Valley.

Mid-April through May is a fabulous time to visit the Cobble, when all the wildflowers are in bloom. May also sees the peak of spring’s bird migration. Bartholomew’s Cobble is open for hiking year-round. The Visitors’ Center and facilities are open May through September.

Visit the Bartholomew’s Cobble website for more information.

Spend an hour or two at the Ashley House, an hour or two exploring Bartholomew’s Cobble, and make a fun day out of it! Take along a picnic lunch or stop for food or shopping in one of the many little towns along the way – Great Barrington, Stockbridge, Sheffield. Then head back to our Berkshires bed and breakfast in time for afternoon wine and cheese.

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