Both Catherine Maria and Susan Sedgwick were published authors. As one of our contemporary Sedgwicks, John, author of a family biography, told N.P.R. about family keepsakes in 2007:
"[Sedgwicks] wrote everything down. They wrote to each other. They kept journals. They wrote books. Just prolific and brilliant writers."And they kept their papers. The Sedgwick collection is one of the largest in the Massachusetts Historical Society. John Sedgwick used those papers to write In My Blood: Six Generations of Madness and Desire in an American Family, his perspective on hereditary bipolar disorder.
"My mother may have had a constitutional tendency to insanity....the terrible weight of domestic cares will sufficiently account for her mental illness without supposing a cerebral tendency which her descendants may have inherited....Mumbet was the only person who could tranquillize my mother when her mind was disordered...." Catherine Maria Sedgwick
Domestic cares? Pamela gave birth 10 times (chronic postpartum depression?). Seven children lived to adulthood. Her husband was rarely at home serving in the Washington administration and later politics as Senator from Massachusetts.
The family of a prominent lawyer had many servants. Elizabeth Freeman was the housekeeper, born into slavery in colonial New York. When Hannah Hogeboom married John Ashley, enslaved Bett and her sister were sent with her to Sheffield, Massachusetts.
Bett often told Catherine Maria about the Ashleys. He was "the most benign of men;" Hannah Hogeboom Ashley was "a shrew, untamable."
Bett had four children, at least one of whom lived with her at the Ashleys. During the Revolution Bett heard talk of independence and freedom, deducing she was entitled to both. She contacted a lawyer, Theodore Sedgwick.
Bett made sense to Sedgwick who perhaps was looking for just such a case. He and Tapping Reeve sued Ashley for the freedom of Bett and a fellow slave. In 1781, the court in Great Barrington found for Brom and Bett v. J. Ashley Esq., freeing the two and awarding them 30 shillings in damages. Bett took the legal name Elizabeth Freeman and went to work as a paid servant in the Sedgwick home where the children called her MammaBet or Mumbet.
"What is called a beggar's-patch-work, formed of hexagonal bits of calico and silk [with] a bit of your mother's wedding gown....Lilly produced it from a store of quilts which she has been in her whole life amassing....they are story-books-family legends."
Elizabeth Freeman's children were probably fathered by Jacob "Jack" Burghardt, also enslaved in the Ashley family. Othello Burghardt (1789-1882) may have been their son, born when Elizabeth was in her forties. His grandson was another American Star William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, famous as writer and activist W.E.B. Du Bois, a founder of the N.A.A.C.P.
|Avery Library Columbia University|
New York's Crystal Palace by Victor Provost
During the Civil War several Sedgwicks joined the Union Army. Sarah Darwin's nephew Arthur of the 20th Massachusetts Volunteers survived Libbey Prison. Her brother William Dwight Sedgwick of the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteers was killed at the Battle of Antietam in 1862.
Catherine Maria mentions Elizabeth/Mumbet often in memoirs and letters and magazine articles.
Timothy Kensley, The Sedgwicks in Love: Courtship, Engagement & Marriage in the Early Republic.
Mary Kelley, The Power of Her Sympathy: The Autobiography and Journal of Catharine Maria Sedgwick, 1993.