Sojourner Truth - African-American abolitionist : 1797 1883
Sojourner Truth (originally named Isabella Baumfree), was born a slave in Ulster County, New York State, in about 1797. At the age of nine she was auctioned off to an Englishman named John Nealey. Over the next few years she was owned by a fisherman in Kingston and then by John Dumont, a plantation owner from New York County. Between 1810 and 1827 she had five children with a fellow slave.
She was dismayed when one of her sons was sold to a plantation owner in Alabama. After New York State abolished slavery in 1827, Quaker friends helped her win back her son through the courts. She moved to New York City and obtained worked as a servant. She became friends with Elijah Pierson, a religious missionary, and eventually became his housekeeper. In 1843 Isabella took the name Sojourner Truth. Up to this stage in her life she had suffered too many vicissitudes to catalogue them all here.
With the help of a white friend, Olive Gilbert, she published her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. In an introduction to the book, William Lloyd Garrison wrote that he believed it would "stimulate renewed efforts to liberate all those still in slavery in America".
Over the next few years Truth toured the country making speeches on slavery. After meeting Lucretia Mott, she also spoke at meetings in favour of woman's suffrage. When a white man told her that her speeches were no more important than a fleabite, she replied, "Maybe not, but the Lord willing, I'll keep you scratching." At the beginning of the American Civil War, she helped recruit black men to help the war effort. In 1864 she moved to Washington where she organised a campaign against the policy of not allowing blacks to sit with whites on trains. As a result of this, she was received in the White House by President Abraham Lincoln. Sojourner Truth died at Battle Creek, Michigan, on 26th November, 1883.
Truth be Told: She Was a Woman
Born into slavery in New York State in about 1797, she boldly took her freedom, escaping before emancipation became law in 1827. At first she saw her mission as spreading the Christian message, but in time she focused her boundless energies on securing the rights of women in a male-dominated society, and gaining freedom and recognition for those still bound in slavery.
She was a forceful public speaker. While attending a Women's Rights convention in Ohio, hearing some ministers of religion claim men had the right to dominate the "weaker sex," she stood to her full height, showed her arms, well-muscled by years of hard labor, and demanded simply, "Ain't I a woman?"
At the outbreak of the Civil War, she made numerous speeches in support of the Union, and visited President Abraham Lincoln on a number of occasions. She agitated for the federal government to grant land in the West to the emancipated slaves, and actively supported the National Freedmen's Relief Association and the Freedmen's Bureau. She had been cared for by her daughters in her final years.
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