"'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