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Mumbet's Declaration of Independence
Cover of Mumbet's Declaration of Independence
Mumbet's Declaration of Independence
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"All men are born free and equal."Everybody knows about the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But the founders weren't the only ones who believed that everyone had a right...
"All men are born free and equal."Everybody knows about the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But the founders weren't the only ones who believed that everyone had a right...
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Description-

  • "All men are born free and equal."

    Everybody knows about the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But the founders weren't the only ones who believed that everyone had a right to freedom. Mumbet, a Massachusetts slave, believed it too. She longed to be free, but how? Would anyone help her in her fight for freedom? Could she win against her owner, the richest man in town?

    Mumbet was determined to try.

    Mumbet's Declaration of Independence tells her story for the first time in a picture book biography, and her brave actions set a milestone on the road toward ending slavery in the United States.

 

Awards-

About the Author-

  • Gretchen Woelfle began writing for children by turning family history into short stories and has gone on to publish award-winning picture books, middle grade nonfiction, biographies, and historical fiction including The Wind at Work, Katje the Windmill Cat, and All the World's A Stage: A Novel in Five Acts. She is now focusing on biographies of unsung women in American history: Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer; Write on, Mercy! The Secret Life of Mercy Otis Warren; and Mumbet's Declaration of Independence. Visit Gretchen online at gretchenwoelfle.com.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 2, 2013
    A slave named Mumbet, who successfully sued for her own freedom in 1781 Massachusetts, is the subject of this powerfully told biography. Suffering under a cruel mistress, Mumbet seeks solace in the freely running rivers of the landscape and in her own mind. Woelfle draws clear parallels between the Massachusetts colonists’ discontent and the freedom Mumbet craves: “ ‘The King means to take away our rights!’ one man shouted. Do I have rights? wondered Mumbet.” Delinois’s thick layers of paint and vibrant palette infuse even the story’s upsetting moments with hopefulness, and Mumbet herself glows with determination and integrity. An author’s note addresses how many details of Mumbet’s life were lost to history, yet her story stands as a potent reminder that the freedoms that accompanied the American Revolution left many behind. Ages 6–10.

  • Kirkus

    November 1, 2013
    With the words of Massachusetts colonial rebels ringing in her ears, a slave determines to win her freedom. In 1780, Mumbet heard the words of the new Massachusetts constitution, including its declaration of freedom and equality. With the help of a young lawyer, she went to court and the following year, won her freedom, becoming Elizabeth Freeman. Slavery was declared illegal and subsequently outlawed in the state. Woelfle writes with fervor as she describes Mumbet's life in the household of John Ashley, a rich landowner and businessman who hosted protest meetings against British taxation. His wife was abrasive and abusive, striking out with a coal shovel at a young girl, possibly Mumbet's daughter. Mumbet deflected the blow and regarded the wound as "her badge of bravery." Ironically, the lawyer who took her case, Theodore Sedgwick, had attended John Ashley's meetings. Delinois' full-bleed paintings are heroic in scale, richly textured and vibrant. Typography becomes part of the page design as the font increases when the text mentions freedom. Another slave in the Ashley household was named in the court case, but Woelfle, keeping her young audience in mind, keeps it simple, wisely focusing on Mumbet. A life devoted to freedom and dignity, worthy of praise and remembrance. (author's note, selected bibliography, further reading) (Picture book/biography. 5-8)

    COPYRIGHT(2013) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    January 1, 2014

    Gr 2-4-Elizabeth Freeman, known as "Mumbet," was an African American slave in 18th-century Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 included the provision, "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights." Using that document as a basis, Mumbet, with the support of a young lawyer named Theodore Sedgwick, challenged the legality of slavery. As a result of their efforts, in 1783 slavery was declared unconstitutional and 5000 slaves in the state gained freedom. Vividly colored illustrations reflect the generally hopeful tone of the story, while bold compositions and thickly layered paint suggest folk art. Freeman's strength of character is reflected in her determined facial expressions and strong stance. While her story is highly inspiring, details about her life are sketchy; information comes primarily from an account written by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, the daughter of Theodore. While this picture book is presented as nonfiction, the story itself is highly fictionalized. An author's note explains what is known about Mumbet and reminds readers that "History is fluid."-Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA

    Copyright 2014 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    May 1, 2014
    Grades 1-4 Mumbet is owned by Colonel John Ashley, but she longs to be free. As the Founding Fathers work on the Declaration of Independence, Mumbet overhears the men discussing the phrase, free and independent. Seven years later, when Mumbet slips into the back of a town hall meeting about the Massachusetts Constitution, she hears, All men are born free and equaland she decides to test the new law. So she visits a young lawyer who is so impressed with her determination that he decides to take her case. Surprisingly, Mumbet won freedom for herself and her daughter, and her case led to slavery being declared unconstitutional in Massachusetts in 1783. Mumbet's still largely unknown story came to light through letters and journal entries written by her lawyer's daughter. Delinois' minimalist but highly evocative acrylic illustrations add depth to the sensitive, inspiring text. A great addition to picture-book collections of American history.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

  • The New York Times Book Review

    "'Mumbet didn't have a last name because she was a slave.' So begins Gretchen Woelfle's 'Mumbet's Declaration of Independence,' which tells the story of a remarkable figure in American colonial history. Known as Bett or Betty, although some children 'fondly called her Mom Bett or Mumbet,' she successfully sued her owner, John Ashley, 'the richest man in Berkshire County, Mass.,' for her emancipation, and once liberated chose to name herself Elizabeth Freeman.

    "Alix Delinois's illustrations beautifully balance the intensity of this history lesson. The opening pages feature seven portraits of Mumbet in different states of thought and emotion. Pensive, determined and graceful, she wears a white bonnet (outlined by bright reds and yellows) in poses that highlight the complex and dynamic human being she must have been. Having overheard discussions of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, which states that 'All men are born free and equal,' Mumbet enlists the help of an attorney, Theodore Sedgwick (father of Catharine Maria Sedgwick, who would later record Mumbet's story), to challenge her enslavement. 'I am not a dumb creature,' Mumbet says. 'I deserve my freedom.' Two years after she brought her case, a judge declared slavery illegal in the state of Massachusetts, which in turn led to the freeing of 5,000 slaves.

    "Woelfle's narrative skillfully keeps Mumbet at center, focusing on Mumbet's struggles against her mistress, Mrs. Ashley, who did not have the right to own property yet 'owned the sharpest tongue in town.' Her verbal and physical cruelty toward Mumbet and Mumbet's daughter, Lizzy, challenges the common belief that white women were passive spectators of slavery's violence and the sentimental allies of slaves. Mumbet, a protective mother, is so eager for her own and her daughter's freedom that she uses the Revolution's egalitarian rhetoric to declare their independence. Woelfle's narrative and her appended notes and references offer opportunities for discussing nuances in the history of American slavery." —The New York Times Book Review

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