Woman Making History #26: Sojourner Truth


Sojourner_Truth.gifIn 1797, Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree on a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. She was one of thirteen children born to slave parents.

Truth was sold at age nine to an abusive slaveholder. She increasingly turned to religion to comfort her as her situation worsened. She was then sold to a tavern owner, a safer situation, then to another abusive plantation family.

In 1815, Truth fell in love with a slave at another plantation. When their forbidden affair was discovered, her lover was beaten and taken away. She never saw him again, but bore a daughter. Shortly thereafter, she was forced to marry another slave on the plantation where she was held and she had four more children between 1822 and 1826.

During the early 1800s, the state of New York was slowly phasing out slavery. The man who owned Truth promised her emancipation in 1826, a year before the final abolition if she continued to work hard for him, but then reneged on his promise. When Truth felt she had fulfilled her commitment, she escaped the plantation with her infant daughter.

Immediately after her escape, Truth began work to rescue her son, who at the age of five had been illegally sold into slavery in Alabama. After legal proceedings, he was returned to her. At this time, Truth became devotedly religion, attending a Methodist church. In 1829, she left upstate New York with an evangelical teacher.

During the early 1930s, Truth was involved in a religious organization called The Kingdom. She worked as their housekeeper, but continued to preach. The group's activities were increasingly bizarre until they disbanded in 1834.

After her affiliation with The Kingdom, Truth resolved to make her way as a traveling preacher. She changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843 and traveled around the East, mostly alone, mostly depending on the kindness of strangers to sustain her. In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a 210 person cooperative labor and farming organization in Massachutes. During her time there, she worked with famous abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.

When the community disbanded in 1846, Truth went to live with one of its founders, George Benson. During this time, she dictated her memoirs, which became The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave (published privately in 1850). The book's success gave Truth the opportunity to support herself with speaking engagements, including her most famous speech, made at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in 1854, Ain't I a Woman?

Truth then became involved with the Quaker offshoot group Progressive Friends, who worked against slavery and towards non-violence. She spoke on behalf of the Union during the Civil War. In 1870, she began to advocate for the federal government to deed land parcels in the West to freed slaves, work she continued for many years, though it never came about.

Sojourner Truth died in 1883, at the age of 86.

Women in History
Sojourner Truth Institute
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