(1797 – 1883)
Born a slave in a Dutch settlement in Ulster County, New York, Sojourner Truth rose above the abuse and bondage of slavery and became an active abolitionist and supporter of women’s rights.
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797 in upstate New York, one of the thirteen children born to slave parents. She spent her childhood as mistreated property of many masters. She grew up speaking only Dutch until she was around eleven years old and she was sold from her family. Because of the cruelty of her new masters, she learned English quickly, but spoke with a Dutch accent her entire life. Isabella was sold several times and suffered much at the hands of severe owners, but she had a deep Christian faith that was passed down to her from her mother, that saw her through these many trials.
Her last master, John Dumont, gave her as a mate to another slave named Thomas. Together they had five children between the years of 1810 and 1827. Mr. Dumont had promised Isabella freedom, but he reneged on his promise. This sent Isabella fleeing from the farm, finding refuge with Isaac Van Wagener, who set her free just before New York State abolished slavery in 1827. With the help of Quaker friends, Isabella went to court seeking the return of her small son who had been sold illegally into slavery in the South. Isabella eventually settled in New York City with her youngest children, supporting herself by working as a domestic servant for several religious communes.
As a child, Isabella had “visions” and heard voices that she felt were from God. While in New York City she attached her self to a group led by an ardent religious missionary, Elijah Pierson. She began to work with this group preaching in the streets and eventually joined his Retrenchment Society and eventually his household. In 1843, Isabella had a spiritual revelation that would forever change her life. It is after this vision that she changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth and obeying what she felt was a supernatural call to travel up and down the land, she set off walking from Long Island through Connecticut singing and preaching the plan of salvation in churches and on village streets calling people to recognize God’s goodness and the brotherhood of man.
Sojourner ended up in Northampton, Maine, and joined the “Northampton Association for Education and Industry”, an ideological community where she met and worked with abolitionists such as Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison, and Olive Gilbert. In 1850 she traveled throughout the Midwest speaking on abolition and people came in droves to see her. She supported herself by selling copies of her book The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, which was penned from her dictation to Olive Gilbert.
In the early 1850s Sojourner met Lucretia Mott and other women leaders and was encouraged to appear before suffrage gatherings. She did this with great success and continued doing so the rest of her life.
After the Civil War ended, Sojourner worked was ceaseless in her work to aid the newly-freed southern slaves. Truth continued preaching and lecturing until sickness forced her to retire. She died in November of 1883 in Battle Creek Michigan, where she had made her home.
This article is an excerpt from the book “History’s Women – The Unsung Heroines” by Patricia Chadwick. For more information on this eBook visit https://historyswomen.com/product/historys-women/.