Sojourner Truth

Famous Slave, Abolitionist, and Suffragist

The Famous Slave and Abolitionist Sojourner Truth: A Brief Synopsis

Sojourner Truth was a former slave and famous abolitionist and suffragist. After escaping from slavery with her youngest daughter in 1826, Sojourner Truth became the first black woman to win a lawsuit against a white man; successfully bringing her enslaved son home to New York. Considered one of the most influential women in American history, she was known for her efforts to fight for the freedom of the slave, improving living conditions for former slaves, and promoting gender and race equality.



In 2009 Sojourner Truth became the first female African-American to have a commemorative bust unveiled in Washington DC, and has also had a NASA robot, an asteroid, and even a song in a Broadway musical named after her.
former escaped slave and women's rights activist Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth, the famous slave, abolitionist and suffragist(public domain)

The Famous Slave and Abolitionist Sojourner Truth: Date of Birth, Parents and Masters

Born Isabella Baumfree in 1797, Sojourner Truth lived with her parents, younger brother, and other slaves in a muddy cellar. On the death of her master in 1806, like her numerous siblings before her, Sojourner Truth was separated from her family and sold with the other slaves and cattle. Initially purchased by the Nealy Family, Sojourner Truth was whipped frequently; unfortunately there was some contention as she only spoke Dutch and they English. Months later she was sold to the Scrivners and worked upon their large farm for a year and a half. John Dumont was Sojourner Truth's last master and was kindly; however his wife was not as pleasant.

The Famous Slave and Abolitionist Sojourner Truth: First Love

As Sojourner Truth grew older, she became attached to a slave named Robert. Owned by a different master, Robert was forbidden to continue seeing Sojourner Truth as any children they had would not belong to his master, but to Dumont; instead Robert was ordered to take one of his master’s slaves as a wife. When he rebelled and continued to see Sojourner Truth in secrecy, he was badly beaten and the two did not see each other again; it was said that he married a slave belonging to his master before dying shortly afterwards.

QUICK FACTS ABOUT THE FAMOUS SLAVE AND ABOLITIONIST SOJOURNER TRUTH

Name: Sojourner Truth
AKA:
Isabella Baumfree
Birth: c.1797
Death: 26 November 1883, Michigan
Famed for: Being the first woman to win a lawsuit against a white man
Slave status: Escaped
Masters: The Nealys, the Scrivners and the Dumonts
Parents: Elizabeth and James Baumfree
Spouse: Thomas
Children: Diana c.1815, Peter B1821, Elizabeth B1825, and Sophia B1826

The Famous Slave and Abolitionist Sojourner Truth: Children and Marriage

It was around this period, in 1815, that Sojourner Truth had Diana; it is unclear whether she was married at the time, or whether Diana was Robert’s child or perhaps even Dumont’s. It is hinted in ‘A Narrative of Sojourner Truth’, as dictated by the illiterate Sojourner Truth and penned by Olive Gilbert, that there were circumstances that contributed toward Sojourner Truth's treatment in the Dumont household. This was not clarified further as she did not wish to distress people that it affected, but it has been questioned whether Diana’s parentage may possibly have been the secret that Sojourner Truth decided against sharing with her readers. Sojourner Truth later had at least three further children with Thomas; Peter, Elizabeth, and Sophia.

There are various accounts of how many children Sojourner Truth had overall; some say five children with one of the five being lost to history, others refer to James as Sojourner Truth's firstborn that died in infancy. Frances Gage in 1863, wrote that Sojourner Truth announced in her famous speech ‘Aint I a Woman?’ that she had 13 children sold to slavery, but Gage’s account was published twelve years afterward and differs from other accounts at the time.

The Famous Slave and Abolitionist Sojourner Truth: Escape

By New York State Law, any slave born before 1 June 1799 were to be emancipated on 4 July 1827; with any child of a slave mother becoming free at the age of twenty one. Dumont promised that he would free Sojourner Truth a year before this date, however, he changed his mind when she was due to be given her papers; apparently the agreement was made before she suffered a ‘diseased hand’, which resulted in his purported financial loss. Out of a sense of duty, Sojourner Truth remained with Dumont until the majority of that season’s work was done and then escaped with Sophia early one morning whilst the neighbourhood was still asleep. Finding shelter at the Van Wagenens, Dumont soon tracked Sojourner Truth down as she had expected whereupon he reasoned that she must return back with him or he would take the baby. In order to avoid unnecessary unpleasantries, Van Wagenen hired Sojourner Truth for the year and reimbursed Dumont for his loss.  

The Famous Slave and Abolitionist Sojourner Truth: The Lawsuit

It was with the Van Wagenens that Sojourner Truth heard that her son, Peter, had been illegally sold by Dumont out of state and subsequently given to Fowler, a planter in Alabama. With help from friends, she successfully filed a lawsuit for the return of Peter; a case that took months to reach conclusion. Scarred, marked and calloused, Peter was in such a state of distress that he initially refused to acknowledge Sojourner Truth as his mother.

The Famous Slave and Abolitionist Sojourner Truth: Change of Name, 'Ain't I a Woman?' and Later Life

In 1843 Sojourner Truth changed her name from Isabella Baumfree and met various abolitionists in the two years that followed such as the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass and abolitionist and suffragist Wendell Phillips. Sojourner Truth became a famous orator and known for her lectures about slavery, civil rights and gender discrimination; perhaps the most famous of speeches was delivered on 29 May 1851at the women's convention in Akron, Ohio and later referred to as the 'Ain't I a Woman?' speech. This was reported in newspapers at the time, but it was the version published by the Frances Gage in 1863 that become the most famous. This account differed in numerous ways from those published immediately after the speech; In Gage's version, the phrase 'Aint I a woman?' was repeated on numerous occasions, the account shows a southern speech pattern when Sojourner Truth was not from the South, and as previously mentioned, Gage reported that Sojourner Truth had  claimed to have thirteen children rather than the widely accepted five.

Additionally, Sojourner Truth advised Abraham Lincoln on two separate occasions, met Ulysses Grant, stayed with Amy Post and was said to be the basis for William Wetmore Story's statue, the Libyan Sibyl. Following the end of The Civil War in 1865, Sojourner Truth continued touring and giving speeches to promote gender and racial equality, despite poor health in later years. 

Sources:

  1. Olive Gilbert - The Narrative of Sojourner Truth

  2. The Sojourner Truth Institute

  3. Encylopaedia Britannica

  4. The University of North Carolina

The Biography of Famous Slave/ Abolitionist Sojourner Truth

  • The Biography of Sojourner Truth, for Education and Learning
  • The Escape of Sojourner Truth
  • Sojourner Truth and Family and Friends

 

 

  • Quick Facts About Former Slave and Abolitionist Sojourner Truth
  • Sojourner Truth and The Lawsuit to Bring Her Son Home
  • Differences in Frances Gage's version of Sojourner Truth's 'Ain't I A Woman?' Speech

 

 


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