Feb 21, 2008 - Sale 2137

Sale 2137 - Lot 5

Estimate: $ 8,000 - $ 12,000
TOWARD ENDING SLAVERY IN MASSACHUSSETTS (SLAVERY AND ABOLITION--MANUSCRIPT.) REEVE, JUDGE TAPPING ET AL. Agreement respecting Negro Slavery Impressed with the importance of obtaining a judicial determination on the question of whether any Negro can legally be holden in slavery in this state. Signed by Tapping Reeve, John Sedgwick, John Adam, Nathaniel Church, Davis Dagget, John Allen and Moses Seymour. Large, square folio sheet, folded to form four pages, written on one side only; creases where folded; a few closed tears. (Litchfield, MA), 3rd February 1790

Additional Details

Tapping Reeve (October 1, 1744 - December 13, 1823) American lawyer and law educator, founded the Litchfield Law School in 1784, the first law school in the United States, in Litchfield, Connecticut. In 1781 Reeve worked with Theodore Sedgwick to defend Elizabeth Freeman (known as Mum Bett), who had been a slave in Sheffield, MA. Bett had listened to discussions related to the Massachusetts Constitution and had heard the phrase "all men are created equal." Sedgwick and Reeve would successfully employ this argument in court to secure her freedom. This case, (Brom & Bett v. Ashley) set a precedent that would later lead to the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts. Mum Bett went to work for the Sedgwicks after her release from slavery.

The present document appears to be a consensus of several prominent Litchfield citizens regarding actions to be taken in the cause of ending slavery, and committing themselves to that end. "Impressed with the importance of obtaining a judicial determination in the question of whither (sic) any Negro can be legally holden in slavery in this state unless sentenced thereto agreeably to positive law or subjected thereto by his or her voluntary contract, we the subscribers hereby bind ourselves to defray the expense which may arise in any action or actions to be commenced for that purpose by the direction of us or other of us--witness our hand, Feby. 3rd, 1790. The document appears to be in the hand of John Sedgwick who then signs. Beneath his signature are those of John Adam, Nathaniel Church and Moses Seymour. Each one signs with the phrase "one eighth" next to their name. [We could not determine what the "one eighth" meant, since there are only four signatories.] Moses Seymour (1742-1811) was town clerk of Litchfield. Beneath this is another short paragraph: "The subscribers will yield their [funds?] gratis in the above business when called upon. Tapping Reeve. David Daggett John Allen." Daggett (1764-1851) was a member of the Connecticut legislature.