Sojourner Truth: Abolitionist, Author, and Women’s Rights AdvocateJan 25, 2021 08:00AM ● By Kassidy Garland
In 1797, Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in Ulster County, New York. Later in life, after becoming a free woman, she became an advocate for the abolition of slavery and the advancement of women’s rights.
Isabella Baumfree and her family were originally enslaved on Colonel Hardenbergh’s estate in Esopus, NY. Separated from her Dutch-speaking family at the age of 9, Baumfree was sold, along with a flock of sheep for around $100. She was moved and sold from slave owner to slave owner, eventually ending up as the property of John Dumont at West Park, NY where she learned to speak English.
Not yet out of her teenage years, Baumfree began having children beginning with her daughter Diana. One year before the abolition of slavery in NY state, in 1827, Baumfree escaped with her infant child, Sophia to a nearby abolitionist family. The Van Wageners helped her achieve freedom, and successfully sue her former slave owner for the return of her son Peter. This made her the first African American to do so.
The following year, she moved to New York City, where she did work for a local minister. Throughout her young life, Isabella Baumfree had visions and heard voices that she attributed to God. By the 1830s, she gained a name for herself as a charismatic speaker, and by 1843, she had decided to go by Sojourner Truth, as she believed the Spirit had called on her to preach only the truth.
With her call to travel around and speak the truth, she left New York City. First in the village streets, she began to preach. She started to speak of abolition of slavery and women’s rights, and during this portion of her life, she met the likes of Frederick Douglass and Lucretia Mott. In 1850, she traveled throughout the Midwest, where her magnetism preceded her. She drew large crowds because people wanted to hear her speak. During her travels, she supported herself by selling copies of her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.
In 1851, Sojourner Truth spoke at the Seneca Falls Convention where she began her famous “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech. She challenged the idea that although she was Black, she was still a woman. The speech was there to persuade others at the convention to fight for all women, including the lives of Black women.
Later in her life, Sojourner Truth, much like Harriet Tubman, recruited Black soldiers to fight for the Union Army. Her efforts proved great success, and she was received at the White House by President Abraham Lincoln.
For the remainder of her life, Sojourner Truth maintained her fight for the rights of all women, even while retiring to Battle Creek, Michigan, and until her passing on November 26, 1883.