The Berkshires is flush with American history that is educational and fun for the whole family — you just have to know where to find it — and I do. One of my favorite historical sites in the region? A simple stone marker that marks the site of the old Great Barrington courthouse where one of the first uprisings against Great Britain occurred prior to the Boston Tea Party and where a brave female slave fought for her freedom — and won — long before the Civil War.
“A stone marker?” you say. “Where’s the fun in that?”
Well, it’s not the marker that provides the fun; it’s where it will lead you. In this case we are heading to the Ashley House in Sheffield, the former home of Col. John Ashley, and the residence at which the aforementioned slave, Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman, was enslaved.
The house, built in 1735 by Ashley, is a historical landmark listed on the National Registry of Historical Places, and is the oldest house still standing in Berkshire County. Ashley, a wealthy individual and supporter of the American Revolution, is a wealth of history himself, but today we are focusing on Bett (Freeman’s birth name, she chose the name Elizabeth Freeman after she was freed).
Born into slavery sometime in the 1740s, bet became a slave in the Ashley House when Hannah Hogebom of Clavernack, N.Y., married John Ashley and moved to Massachusetts. A visit to the house will provide an in-depth look into Bett’s life at the house and the legacy that follows her today. Children will see where Bett spent hours tending to the household fires, cooking, cleaning, spinning, sewing, hauling water and ash and attending to visitors. They also will learn about Bett’s skills as a nurse and midwife and how this lead to her connection with others in the community — mainly the family of Theodore Sedgwick who helped her sue for her freedom and for whom she worked after she was freed. At the Ashley House families can participate in an activity that encourages them to reflect on the legacy of Mum Bett (the affectionate term given to her by the Sedgwick family) and to explore how each family member would like to one day be remembered.
After visiting the Ashley House (which should take approximately an hour to explore) families can visit other sites on the Mumbett Trail (a trail map can be found at http://www.uhvafamtrail.org/imagesN/MumBettMap.pdf). Stops at the original site of the Ashley House (it was moved to its current site in 1930); the Sedgwick home where Bett walked to ask Theodore Sedgwick to represent her case; the site of Mumbett’s home which she bought in 1803 in Stockbridge; and her final resting place in the Stockbridge Cemetery are just a few of the educational stops your children will enjoy on this historical adventure. Photos are a must on this family day out — and perhaps a stop at Tom’s Toys in Great Barrington to break up your tour or for lunch on the porch of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge will keep the kiddos spirits high and their educational minds open during this historical day of family fun in the Berkshires.
For a virtual tour of Mumbett’s life click her photo at the top of the page at http://www.thetrustees.org/what-we-care-about/history-culture/elizabeth-freeman-fighting-for-freedom.html.
Enjoy – your Berkshire Family Fun Finder