- Bonita Amenta Cutliff
Journey of Truth
Sojourner Truth born Isabella Baumfree was an African American abolitionist and women’s right activist. Colonel Hardenbergh bought her parents James and Elizabeth Baumfree and kept their family at his estate in the town of Esopus, New York. When Hardenbergh died in 1806, nine-year-old Truth (known as Belle), was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100 to John Neely. She later described Neely as cruel and harsh, relating how he beat her daily and once even with a bundle of rods. In 1808 Neely sold her for $105 to tavern keeper Martinus Schryver , who owned her for 18 months. Schryver then sold Truth in 1810 to John Dumont.
Around 1815, Truth met and fell in love with an enslaved man named Robert from a neighboring farm. Robert's owner Charles Catton Jr, forbade their relationship; he did not want the people he enslaved to have children with people he was not enslaving, because he would not own the children. One day Robert sneaked over to see Truth. When Catton and his son found him, they savagely beat Robert. Truth never saw Robert again after that day and he died a few years later. The experience haunted her throughout her life time. It is said that Truth was later forced to marry an older enslaved man named Thomas. She bore five children: James, her firstborn, who died in childhood, Diana (1815), the result of a rape by John Dumont, and Peter (1821), Elizabeth (1825), and Sophia (ca. 1826).
In 1799, the state of New York began to legislate the abolition of slavery, although the process of emancipating those people enslaved in New York was not complete until July 4, 1827. Dumont promised to grant Truth her freedom a year before the state emancipation, "if she would do well and be faithful." However, he changed his mind, claiming a hand injury had made her less productive. She was infuriated but continued working, spinning 100 pounds of wool, to satisfy her sense of obligation to him.
Truth later found her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen in New Paltz, who took her and her baby in. Isaac offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year, which Dumont accepted for $20 and she lived there until the New York State Emancipation Act was approved a year later.
Truth learned that her son Peter, then five years old, had been sold illegally by Dumont to an owner in Alabama. With the help of the Van Wagenens, she took the issue to court and in 1828, after months of legal proceedings, she got back her son, who had been abused. Truth became one of the first black women to go to court against a white man and win the case.
Unfortunately around 1839, Truth's son Peter took a job on a whaling ship. From 1840 to 1841, she received three letters from him, though in his third letter he told her he had sent five and Peter also stated he had never received any of her letters. When the ship returned to port in 1842, Peter was not on board and Truth never heard from him again.
She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the countryside "testifying the hope that was in her". In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Massachusetts. Founded by abolitionists. The members, during its four-and-a-half year history, lived on 470 acres, raising livestock, running a sawmill, a gristmill and a silk factory. While there, Truth met William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and David Ruggles until 1846 when the group disbanded, unable to support itself.
Truth started dictating her memoirs to her friend Olive Gilbert, and in 1850 William Lloyd Garrison privately published her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: a Northern Slave. That same year, she purchased a home in what would become the village of Florence in Northampton for $300, and spoke at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, MA. In 1854, with proceeds from sales of the narrative and carter-de-visite captioned, "I sell the shadow to support the substance," she paid off the mortgage held by her friend from the community, Samuel L. Hill.
Her best-known speech was delivered extemporaneously, in 1851, at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. The speech became widely known during the Civil War by the title “ Ain’t I a Woman?”. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army; after the war, in 1870 she tried to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves as summarized in the promise of “forty acres and a mule”, a project she pursued for seven years without success. While in Washington, D.C., she had a meeting with President Ulysses S.Grant in the White House. In 1872, she returned to Battle Creek, became active in Grant's presidential re-election campaign, and even tried to vote on Election Day, but was turned away at the polling place.
Truth spoke about abolition, women's rights, prison reform, and preached to the Michigan Legislature against capital punishment.