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Sojourner Truth

Abolitionist, Minister, Ex-Slave, Woman's Rights Activist

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Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth

Courtesy Library of Congress
Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth

Courtesy Library of Congress
Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth - about 1864

Courtesy Library of Congress

Dates: (~1797 - November 26, 1883)

Sojourner Truth Biography:

The woman we know as Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York as Isabella Baumfree (after her father's owner, Baumfree). She was sold several times, and while owned by the John Dumont family in Ulster County, married Thomas, another of Dumont's slaves. She had five children with Thomas. In 1827, New York law emancipated all slaves, but Isabella had already left her husband and run away with her youngest child. She went to work for the family of Isaac Van Wagenen.

While working for the Van Wagenen's -- whose name she used briefly -- she discovered that a member of the Dumont family had sold one of her children to slavery in Alabama. Since this son had been emancipated under New York Law, Isabella sued in court and won his return.

Isabella experienced a religious conversion, moved to New York City and to a Methodist perfectionist commune, and there came under the influence of a religious prophet named Mathias. The commune fell apart a few years later, with allegations of sexual improprieties and even murder. Isabella herself was accused of poisoning, and sued successfully for libel. She continued as well during that time to work as a household servant.

In 1843, she took the name Sojourner Truth, believing this to be on the instructions of the Holy Spirit and became a traveling preacher (the meaning of her new name). In the late 1840s she connected with the abolitionist movement, becoming a popular speaker. In 1850, she also began speaking on woman suffrage. Her most famous speech, Ain't I a Woman?, was given in 1851 at a women's rights convention in Ohio.

Sojourner Truth met Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote about her for the Atlantic Monthly and wrote a new introduction to Truth's autobiography, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth moved to Michigan and joined yet another religious commune, this one associated with the Friends. She was at one point friendly with Millerites, a religious movement that grew out of Methodism and later became the Seventh Day Adventists.

During the Civil War Sojourner Truth raised food and clothing contributions for black regiments, and met Abraham Lincoln at the White House in 1864. While there, she tried to challenge the discrimination that segregated street cars by race.

After the War ended, Sojourner Truth again spoke widely, advocating for some time a "Negro State" in the west. She spoke mainly to white audiences, and mostly on religion, "Negro" and women's rights, and on temperance, though immediately after the Civil War she tried to organize efforts to provide jobs for black refugees from the war.

Active until 1875, when her grandson and companion fell ill and died, Sojourner Truth returned to Michigan where her health deteriorated and she died in 1883 in a Battle Creek sanitorium of infected ulcers on her legs. She was buried in Battle Creek, Michigan, after a very well-attended funeral.

More About Sojourner Truth:

Suggested Reading:

Bibliography, Books

  • Bernard, Jacqueline. Journey Toward Freedom: The Story of Sojourner Truth.
  • Saunders Redding, "Sojourner Truth" in Notable American Women 1607-1950 Volume III P-Z. Edward T. James, editor. Janet Wilson James and Paul S. Boyer, assistant editors. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1971.
  • Stetson, Erlene. Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth.
  • Truth, Sojourner. Narrative of Sojourner.
  • Truth, Sojourner. Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Dover Thrift Editions.

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