Sojourner Truth was born in 1797 on the Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh estate in Swartekill, in Ulster County, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. Her given name was Isabella Baumfree, also spelled Bomefree. She was one of 13 children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree, also slaves on the Hardenbergh plantation. She spoke only Dutch until she was sold from her family around the age of nine. Isabella suffered very cruel treatment once her first master died and she was sold to her next master, John Neely.
Neely’s wife and family only spoke English and beat Isabella fiercely for the frequent miscommunications. She learned to speak English quickly, but she still had her Dutch accent. She later spoke up and said that Neely once whipped her with “a bundle of rods, prepared in the embers, and bound together with cords. ” During this time that she began praying aloud when she became scared or hurt. In 1815, she fell in love with a slave named Robert. Robert’s owner forbade the relationship because he did not want his slave having children with a slave he did not own.
One night Robert visited Isabella, but was followed by his owner and son, who beat him savagely, bruising and mangling his head and face, and dragged him away. She never got to see him again. Isabella had a daughter shortly thereafter, named Diana. In 1817, she was forced to marry an older slave named Thomas. They had four children: Peter, James, who died young, Elizabeth, and Sophia. In 1799, the state of New York began to legislate the gradual abolition of slaves, which was supposed to happen July 4, 1827. Dumont had promised Isabella freedom a year before the state emancipation if she would do well and be faithful.
However, he reneged on his promise. She continued working until she felt she had done enough to satisfy her sense of obligation to him. She then escaped with her infant daughter, Sophia. Isabella went the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen. Dumont found her and demanded her to go back. When she refused he threatened to take her baby. Isaac offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year. Dumont accepted his offer for $20. Isaac and Maria insisted Isabella not call them “master” and “mistress,” but by their names.
Once Isabella heard about her son she immediately set to work retrieving her young son Peter. He had recently been sold illegally to a slave holder in Alabama. She took it to the court and won. She was one of the first African Americans to win a court case. Isabella had a life-changing religious experience and became inspired to preach. In 1829, she left Ulster County and became known as a remarkable preacher, whose influence was miraculous. She soon met Elijah Pierson, a religious reformer who advocated strict adherence to Old Testament laws for salvation.
In 1834, Pierson had died and the Folger family accused Isabella of stealing their money and poisoning Elijah. Everything was eventually acquitted. Isabella settled in New York City, but she had lost what savings and possessions she had. She resolved to leave and make her way as a traveling preacher. On June 1, 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She traveled, depending on the kindness of strangers. She began dictating her memoirs to Olive Gilbert. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave was published privately by William Lloyd Garrison in 1850.
It gave her an income and increased her speaking engagements. She spoke about anti-slavery and women’s rights, often giving personal testimony about her experiences as a slave. That same year, 1850, Benson’s cotton mill failed and he left Northampton. In 1854, at the Ohio Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, she gave her most famous speech, with the legendary phrase, “Ain’t I a Woman? ” During the Civil War, she spoke on the Union’s behalf, as well as for enlisting black troops for the cause and freeing slaves.
In 1864, she worked among freed slaves at a government refugee camp on an island in Virginia and was employed by the National Freedman’s Relief Association in Washington, D. C. She also met President Abraham Lincoln in October. In 1863, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s article “The Libyan Sibyl” appeared in the Atlantic Monthly; a romanticized description of Sojourner. In 1870, she began campaigning for the federal government to provide former slaves with land. She pursued this for seven years. In 1874, she developed ulcers on her leg. She was successfully treated by Dr.
Orville Guiteau, veterinarian, but had to return home due to illness once more. She did toured as much as she could, still campaigning for free land for former slaves. In 1879, Sojourner was delighted as many freed slaves began migrating west and north on their own. She spent a year helping refugees and speaking in white and black churches trying to gain support for the “Exodusters” as they tried to build new lives for themselves. This was her last mission. In July of 1883, with ulcers on her legs, she sought treatment through Dr. John Harvey Kellogg at his famous Battle Creek Sanitarium.
It is said he grafted some of his own skin onto her leg. Sojourner returned home and died there on November 26, 1883, at 86 years old. She was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery next to her grandson. WORK CITIED Pauli, Hertha Ernestine. Her Name Was Sojourner Truth. NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. Slave Narratives. NY: Library of America, 2000. Stetson, Erlene, and Linda David. Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1994. http://www. biography. com/people/sojourner-truth-9511284 http://www. harpyness. com/2009/02/09/honoring-sojourner-truth-1797-1883/