Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth

Infobox Person
name = Sojourner Truth

image_size = 200px
caption = photograph by Mathew Brady, an albumen silver print from approximately 1864
born_state = New York
birth_date = c. 1797
death_date = death date|1883|11|26|mf=y
birth_place = Swartekill, New York
death_place = Battle Creek, Michigan
occupation = Domestic servant, Abolitionist, Author
parents = James and Elizabeth Baumfree

Sojourner Truth (1797–November 26, 1883) was the self-given name, from 1843, of Isabella Baumfree, an American abolitionist and women's rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York. Her best-known speech, Ain't I a Woman?, was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. She is commemorated together with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer and Harriet Ross Tubman in the calendar of saints of the Episcopal Church on July 20, the date of Stanton's death.

Early years

Truth was born into slavery around 1797. She was one of thirteen children born to James and Elizabeth Baumfree, who were slaves of Colonel Hardenbergh. The Hardenbergh estate was in a hilly area called by the Dutch name Swartekill (just north of present-day Rifton), in the town of Esopus, New York, 95 miles north of New York City. cite book |last= Whalin |first= W. Terry |coauthors= |title= Sojourner Truth |publisher= Barbour Publishing, Inc.|year= 1997 |month= |isbn= 9781593106294 ] After the colonel's death, ownership of the family slaves passed to his son, Charles Hardenbergh. cite web|url=|title=Amazing Life page|work=Sojourner Truth Institute site|accessmonthday=December 28|accessyear=2006]

In 1806, Hardenbergh sold Truth for $100 to John Neely, near Kingston, New York. Until she was sold, Truth spoke only Dutch.cite web|url=|title=Sojourner Truth page
work=Women in History site|accessmonthday=December 28|accessyear=2006
] She suffered many hardships at the hands of Neely, whom she later described as cruel and harsh and who once beat her with a bundle of rods. Truth previously said Neely raped and beat her daily. Neely sold her in 1808, for $105, to Martinus Schryver of Port Ewen, a tavern keeper, who owned her for 18 months. Schryver sold her in 1810, for $175, to John Dumont of West Park, New York.cite web |url= |title=State University of New York at New Paltz |work=On the trail of Sojourner Truth in Ulster County, New York by Corinne Nyquist Librarian, Sojourner Truth Library |accessmonthday=March 6 |accessyear=2008] Although this fourth owner was kindly disposed toward her, his wife found numerous ways to harass Truth and make her life more difficult. Around 1815, Truth met and fell in love with a slave named Robert from a neighboring farm. Robert's owner forbade the relationship; he did not want his slave to have children with a slave he did not own, because he would not own the children. Robert was savagely beaten and Truth never saw him again.cite web|url=|title=Sojourner Truth page
work=Narrative of Sojourner Truth|accessmonthday=December 28|accessyear=2006
] In 1817, Truth was forced by Dumont to marry an older slave named Thomas. She had five children, Diana, fathered by Robert; and Elizabeth, Hannah, Peter, and Sophia, fathered by Thomas.


The state of New York began, in 1799, to legislate the abolition of slavery, although the process of emancipating New York slaves was not complete until July 4, 1827. Dumont had promised Truth freedom a year before the state emancipation, "if she would do well and be faithful." However, he changed his mind, claiming a hand injury had made her less productive. She was infuriated. She continued working until she felt she had done enough to satisfy her sense of obligation to him by spinning 100 pounds of wool.

Late in 1826, Truth escaped to freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia. She had to leave her other children behind because they were not legally freed in the emancipation order until they had served as bound servants into their twenties.cite web|url=|title=Sojourner Truth page
work=Women in History site|accessmonthday=December 28|accessyear=2006
] She later said:

She found her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, a Quaker family,cite web|url=
title=Sojourner Truth page|work=Michigan Women's Hall of Fame|accessmonthday=December 28|accessyear=2006
] who took her and her baby in. Isaac offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year (until the state's emancipation took effect), which Dumont accepted for $20. She lived there until the New York State Emancipation Act was approved a year later.

Truth learned that her son Peter, then 5 years old, had been sold illegally by Dumont to an owner in Alabama. With the help of Quaker activists, she took the issue to court and, after months of legal proceedings, got back her son, who had been abused by his new owner.cite web|url=|title=Amazing Life page|work=Sojourner Truth Institute site|accessmonthday=December 28|accessyear=2006]

Truth had a life-changing religious experience during her stay with the Van Wagenens, and became a devout Christian. In 1829 she moved with her son Peter to New York City, where she worked as a housekeeper for Elijah Pierson, a Christian Evangelist. In 1832, she met Robert Matthews, also known as Matthias Kingdom or Prophet Matthias, and went to work for him as a housekeeper. In a bizarre twist of fate, Elijah Pierson died, and Robert Matthews and Truth were accused of stealing from and poisoning Pierson. Both were acquitted and Robert Matthews moved west.

In 1839, Truth's son Peter took a job on a whaling ship called the "Zone of Nantucket". From 1840 to 1841, she received three letters from him, though in his third letter he told her he had sent five. When the ship returned to port in 1842, Peter was not on board and Truth never heard from him again.

"The Spirit calls me"

On June 1, 1843, Truth changed her name to "Sojourner Truth" and told her friends, "The Spirit calls me, and I must go." She became a Methodist, and left to make her way traveling and preaching about abolition. In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Massachusetts. Founded by abolitionists, the organization supported women's rights and religious tolerance as well as pacifism. There were 210 members and they lived on 500 acres (2 km²), raising livestock, running a sawmill, a gristmill, and a silk factory. While there, Truth met William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles. In 1846, the group disbanded, unable to support itself. In 1847, she went to work as a housekeeper for George Benson, the brother-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison. In 1849, she visited John Dumont before he moved west.

Truth started dictating her memoirs to her friend Olive Gilbert, and in 1850 William Lloyd Garrison privately published her book, "The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave". That same year, she purchased a home in Northampton for $300.

In 1851, she left Northampton to join George Thompson, an abolitionist and speaker. In May, she attended the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio where she delivered her famous speech "Ain't I a Woman", a slogan she adopted from one of the most famous abolitionist images, that of a kneeling female slave with the caption "Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?"cite web|url=|title=Virtual Exhibitions - artifacts of the Abolitionist movement page|work=Daughters of the American Revolution site|accessmonthday=December 28|accessyear=2006]

:"Reminiscences by Frances Gage" :"Akron Convention, Akron, Ohio, May 1851"

:"There were very few women in those days who dared to "speak in meeting"; and the august teachers of the people were seemingly getting the better of us, while the boys in the galleries, and the sneerers among the pews, were hugely enjoying the discomfiture, as they supposed, of the "strong-minded." Some of the tender-skinned friends were on the point of losing dignity, and the atmosphere betokened a storm. When, slowly from her seat in the corner rose Sojourner Truth, who, till now, had scarcely lifted her head. "Don't let her speak!" gasped half a dozen in my ear. She moved slowly and solemnly to the front, laid her old bonnet at her feet, and turned her great speaking eyes to me. There was a hissing sound of disapprobation above and below. I rose and announced "Sojourner Truth," and begged the audience to keep silence for a few moments."

:"The tumult subsided at once, and every eye was fixed on this almost Amazon form, which stood nearly six feet high, head erect, and eyes piercing the upper air like one in a dream. At her first word there was a profound hush. She spoke in deep tones, which, though not loud, reached every ear in the house, and away through the throng at the doors and windows."cite web|url=|title=Sojourner Truth page|work=Women History|accessmonthday=December 28|accessyear=2006]

Over the next decade, Truth spoke before dozens, perhaps hundreds, of audiences. From 1851 to 1853, Truth worked with Marius Robinson, the editor of the Ohio "Anti-Slavery Bugle", and traveled around that state speaking. In 1853, she spoke at a suffragist "mob convention" at the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City; that year she also met Harriet Beecher Stowe. In 1856, she traveled to Battle Creek, Michigan, to speak to a group called the Friends of Human Progress. In 1858, someone interrupted a speech and accused her of being a man; Truth opened her blouse and revealed her breasts.

"Ain't I a Woman?"

Truth delivered her best-known speech in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention. The speech has become known as "Ain't I a Woman?" after Truth's refrain.cite web|url=|title=Sojourner Truth Page|work=American Suffragist Movement|accessmonthday=December 29|accessyear=2006] The speech as shown here has been revised from the 19th century dialect in which Truth spoke.

cquote|Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne five children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or Negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it. The men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.|cquotecite web|url=|title=Sojourner Truth Page|work=Fordham University|accessmonthday=December 30|accessyear=2006] ::--Sojourner Truth

On a mission

Truth sold her home in Northampton in 1857 and bought a house in Harmonia, Michigan, just west of Battle Creek. According to the 1860 census, her household in Harmonia included her daughter, Elizabeth Banks (age 35), and her grandsons James Caldwell (misspelled as "Colvin"; age 16) and Sammy Banks (age 8).

NAME=Truth, Sojourner
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Isabella Baumfree
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Domestic servant, Abolitionist, Author
DATE OF BIRTH=Circa 1797
PLACE OF BIRTH=Swartekill, New York
DATE OF DEATH=November 26, 1883
PLACE OF DEATH=Battle Creek, Michigan

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