Colonel John Ashley was a co-author of the Sheffield Resolves, a manifesto against British tyranny. He was also an enslaver: four men and one woman–John, Zack, Harry, Brom, and Bett–were held by Colonel Ashley to work on the surrounding farm and in the house.
In later records, Bett (also known as Mum Bett and, later, Elizabeth Freeman) recalled that it was in this clapboard farmhouse, in the midst of her duties, that she educated herself by “keeping still and minding things” while her enslaver and other leaders of the community debated and discussed current events and politics in Ashley’s study. Hearing the words “all men are born free and equal” read from the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 would inspire Bett’s 1781 successful petition to the Assembly for her own freedom. Other cases in Massachusetts, like Quock Walker’s, quickly followed.
Owned and operated by the Trustees of Reservations, Ashley House welcomes visitors seasonally. Tours and special events at the site focus on the history of Elizabeth Freeman and her historic and well-documented fight for her own independence.