10 Facts About Sojourner Truth
The former slave became an abolitionist and women’s rights advocate.
Born a slave, Sojourner Truth is now remembered for her work in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements of the 19th century. This profile highlights key moments of her life. Find out why Truth remains one of the most memorable figures in U.S. history.
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree around 1797 in Swartekill, N.Y.
Truth was a first generation African-American on her father’s side and a second generation African American on her mother’s. She was of Ghanaian and Guinean heritage.
The Baumfrees spoke Dutch, as the language was commonly spoken in their area, 95 miles north of New York City, according to Biography.com.
Truth did not learn English until after she had been sold to various slave owners in childhood, ultimately becoming the property of John Dumont of West Park, N.Y.
Truth gave birth to four children, but not without some heartache. Her first child, Diana, was produced after a love affair with a slave named Robert. But Robert’s master forbid him to see Truth again because the children their union would produce would be John Dumont’s property and not his. Dumot later told Truth to marry a slave named Thomas, with whom she had three children: Peter, Elizabeth and Sophia.
Truth escaped from slavery in 1826 with baby Sophia, just a year before New York emancipated its slaves. After learning that her son had been sold to a man in Alabama illegally, she went to court and won him back, one of the first times a black woman won a court case against a white man, according to Biography.com.
In her 30s, Truth had another brush with the legal system. She and her employer, a reputed conman named Robert Matthews, were accused of fatally poisoning Truth’s other employer, Elijah Pierson. She and Matthews were found not guilty.
Truth likely endured another broken heart after her son Peter got work on a whaling ship in the 1840s and never returned.
Truth dropped the name Isabella Baumfree and became Sojourner Truth on June 1, 1843. The next year, she joined the abolitionist group the Northhampton Association of Education and Industry in Massachusetts, which brought her into contact with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.
Truth was illiterate but dictated her life story to a friend; it was published in the 1850 book “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave.”
In 1851, Truth delivered her famous “Ain’t a Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. Because she grew up speaking Dutch in New York, however, some question if she would have used this Southern saying.
Truth gave speeches about human rights until she reached old age. She died on Nov. 26, 1883.
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