Sedgwick House // 1785

Built in 1785, the Sedgwick House on Main Street in Stockbridge, MA, is the oldest of several Federal mansions built in town after the Revolution. Theodore Sedgwick (1746-1813), one of the early lawyers of Berkshire County, moved to Stockbridge in 1785 and built this house. From 1796 to 1799 he was a Senator in the federal government, and declined a position of Secretary of the Treasury offered by George Washington. Before this, when a House Representative, he was nominated the fourth Speaker of the House. An ardent Federalist, Theodore retired from the national arena upon Thomas Jefferson’s election. Sedgwick was also a member of an early abolitionist society organized in Pennsylvania in 1775 and played a key role in abolishing slavery in Massachusetts by his win in the case of Bett v. Ashley. In this case, Sedgwick served as attorney of Mum Bet (also known as Elizabeth Freeman) an enslaved woman in nearby Sheffield and argued that slavery was inconsistent with the 1780 Massachusetts State Constitution, and won. Bet became the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts, effectively abolishing slavery in the state. She was later buried in the Sedgwick Family burial plot in Stockbridge. The home was later owned and occupied by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Theodore’s daughter, who became one of nineteenth-century America’s most prolific women writers. She published six novels, two biographies, eight works for children, novellas, over 100 pieces of short prose and other works.

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