Sojourner Truth

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.

See below to learn more about Sojourner Truth.
Date of Birth and Parents:
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.

Date of Death:
Sojourner Truth died on 26 November 1883, Michigan.

Spouse and Children:
In 1815 Sojourner Truth had a baby daughter named Diana; it is unclear whether she was married to Thomas at the time, or whether Diana was her first love'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 married Thomas and had at least three further children; Peter, Elizabeth, and Sophia.

Masters:
Within a short space of time, Sojourner Truth was sold to The Nealys, the Scrivners, and finally became a maid in the Dumont household.

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.

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 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 Lawsuit:
It was with the Van Wagenens that Sojourner Truth heard 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.

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. Additionally, Sojourner Truth advised Abraham Lincoln on two separate occasions, met Ulysses Grant, 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.


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