Sojourner Truth

smiley-face-2Just another traveler on life’s highway, hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet, it’s peaceful; beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows


She was born in 1797 in Ulster County, New York, Isabella Baumfree, to James and Elizabeth Baumfree, slaves of a Dutch settler, Colonel Hardenbergh.  The Hardenberghs, Dutch speaking settlers, lived in Esopus, 95 miles north of New York City.  Dutch was Isabella’s learned language.  At the age of 9 her owner died and she was put up for auction.  In 1806, “Belle” was sold with a flock of sheep for $100.  Sold twice again over the next few years she became the property of John Dumont for whom she worked for the next 17 years.  It was then that the slave learned English.  She fell in love with a slave named Robert from a neighboring farm but the owner of Robert forbade them to marry. They never saw each other again.

The state of New York passed legislation granting freedom in 1817 to slaves born before July 4th, 1799; however, that law did not take effect until 1827.  During that 10 year period, Isabella was forced by John Dumont to married an older slave, Thomas,  and they had several children.  Approaching the 1827 day of liberation, she realized that her owner had no intention of releasing her;  she ran away in 1826 with her infant daughter leaving another daughter and son behind.

Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen bought her from Dumont and gave Isabella her freedom.  Following a “religious experience”, after which she claimed to talk directly to God, the ex-slave sued an Alabama plantation owner who had illegally bought her son and she subsequently became the first black woman to take a white man to court and win.  In 1835 a white couple, the Folgers, accused Isabella of trying to poison them.  The black woman, having sued the Folgers for slander, became the first of her race to win such a suit against a white person.

Having then moved to New York City, Isabella, in 1843, changed her name to Sojourner Truth and converted to Christianity travelling New England holding prayer sessions, often sleeping outside and taking odd jobs.  In 1844 Sojourner became acquainted with the Northampton Association, an abolitionist group which supported reforms including women’s rights and pacifism seeking ideals of freedom and equality.  Her reputation as a speaker grew and she became associated with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.  Her book, THE NARRATIVE OF SOJOURNER TRUTH: A NORTHERN SLAVE, was published in 1850.  Unable to read or write, Sojourner, now a recognized activist, dictated her recollections to a friend, Olive Gilbert.

In 1850 the U.S. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law which allowed runaway slaves to be arrested and jailed without a trial jury.  In 1857 the Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that slaves had no rights as citizens and that the government could not outlaw slavery in new territories.

The Dred Scott decision and the unsettling times did not deter the early suffragette from her mission;  while her associates spoke to largely black crowds, Sojourner addressed many hostile white crowds ultimately soothing them with her “colorful and down-to-earth style.”

The proceeds from her popular autobiography enabled her to purchase land and a house in Battle Creek, Michigan.  Her crusading continued throughout the Midwest and when war broke out in 1861, she visited black troops stationed near Detroit.  Having met with President Lincoln in October of 1864, she decided to stay in the Washington area working at a hospital counseling freed slaves.  After the war, Sojourner carried on with her lectures until failing health in the 1870s forced her to return home.

Sojourner Truth, Isabella Baumfree, died at home in Battle Creek, Michigan, on November 26, 1883 and is buried aside her family at Oak Hill Cemetery.

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