Lizzie, A young slave girl living in colonial times
Mum Bett, Lizzie's older sister
Mrs. Hannah Ashley, wife of Lizzie and Mum Bett's owner, Colonel John Ashley
(Scene: The Ashley house in a small town in Massachusetts during the 1700s. Mum Bett sits in a corner of the kitchen, working on some sewing.)
Narrator: Mum Bett and her young sister Lizzie were house slaves. While they didn't have to do some of the backbreaking labor of a slave who worked in the fields, they faced other hardships. As servants living in their masters' home, house slaves had little privacy. They also worked seven days a week. Today, Lizzie has just finished serving a meal to the Ashley's.
(Lizzie enters the kitchen carrying a stack of dirty dishes.)
Lizzie (putting the dishes in the sink): I thought the Ashley's would never finish their supper! I couldn't stand watching them eat. You know Mrs. Ashley wouldn't let me have any breakfast this morning.
Mum Bett: I know. She said you didn't clean the kitchen right last night. At least she didn't whip you for your punishment this time.
Lizzie: But I'm so hungry! A few scraps of dough are left over and the Mrs. Ashley won't miss them. I'm going to make myself a wheat cake. (She starts forming the dough into a flat cake.)
Narrator: Mum Bett knew it was dangerous for Lizzie to eat the slaveowners' food, even their unwanted leftovers, without permission. But she hated to see her little sister go hungry.
Mum Bett: Well, be quick about it, Lizzie. You don't want to get caught. (She goes back to sewing.)
Lizzie: I won't. (She turns around and cooks the cake in a pan over the coals in the fireplace. Lizzie is eating the cake when Mrs. Ashley suddenly walks through the door behind her.)
Mrs. Ashley (yelling at Lizzie): What's this? You wicked girl! Stealing my food now, I see! Well if I can't teach you your place, perhaps this hot shovel will do the trick!
(Lizzie steps back in terror as Mrs. Ashley reaches behind her to grab a metal shovel from a pan of hot coals in the fireplace. Mrs. Ashley raises the shovel and starts to swing it at Lizzie's head.)
Mum Bett (Jumping up, she runs over and holds her arms over Lizzie's head to protect her.): No!
(The shovel strikes the arm of Mum Bett, who screams in pain, drops to her knees, and cradles her hurt limb. Lizzie looks on in shock as Mrs. Ashley drops the shovel to the floor.)
Mrs. Ashley (Speaking with less anger now-she feels bad for hurting Mum Bett but won't admit she was wrong to a slave.) Look what you've made me do, Lizzie. Now pick up this shovel before it sets the house on fire. (She walks out of the room.)
(Lizzie quickly picks up the shovel and tosses it back into the fireplace.
Lizzie (crying): Mum Bett, your arm! What will we do?
Mum Bett: Get me a clean rag from the cupboard, child. Wet it so I can clean this burn.
Lizzie (runs to fetch the rag and hands it to Mum Bett): But you need a doctor, Bett!
Mum Bett: You know we slaves can't call the doctor for ourselves. Even if it were allowed, we have no money to pay him. But you go on and run to the doctor's house. Go to the back door and ask for the slave Samuel. Tell him what happened here. Samuel helps the doctor with his patients sometimes. Maybe he can come and help me.
Lizzie: Yes, Mum Bett, I'll run as fast as I can. (She helps Mum Bett up and walks her back to the chair she was sitting in earlier. Lizzie hugs Mum Bett and then runs for the door. Stopping in the doorway, she turns around.) Bett?
Mum Bett: Yes, Lizzie?
Lizzie: Thank you for protecting me. Mrs. Ashley could have killed me with that shovel. It's my own fault. You warned me to be careful and I didn't pay attention.
Mum Bett: You didn't do anything wrong, Lizzie. You were hungry and that food was just going to waste. What's wrong here is slavery. If we were free, we'd be paid for our labor and we could buy our own food.
(Lizzie nods sadly and runs off. Mum Bett drops her head down into her hands for a moment. Then she looks up with a strong, determined look on her face.)
Mum Bett: Things are changing in these colonies. I hear the white men talking about freedom. Well, they're not the only ones who care about such things. From now on, I'm going to talk about freedom, and fight for it too. As long as I live, I won't rest until Lizzie and I are free.
Character Spotlight on Elizabeth Freeman (Mum Bett)
"Form of a Petition" in THE PALLADIUM OF LIBERTY - Following in the tradition of slaves demanding freedom in Boston in the 1770s, black citizens of Ohio petitioned that the General Assembly of the state overturn laws that made race distinctions.
All readings created in the Historical Fiction section were reviewed and approved by the educational advisor, Thomas Thurston, Director of Education at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, Yale Center for International and Area Studies.