Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Sojourner Truth: Her Life Story

From wikipedia
"Sojourner Truth (c. 1797–November 26, 1883) was the self-given name, from 1843, of Isabella Baumfree, an American abolitionist. Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York. Her most famous speech, which became known as Ain't I a Woman?, was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.
Early Years
Isabella Baumfree was born around the year 1797. She was born into slavery on the Hardenbergh estate in Swartekill, New York[2]. Her parents were James and Betsy Baumfree, slaves of Colonel Hardenbergh. She was one of thirteen children. She spoke only Dutch until she was sold.] Ownership of the family slaves passed to the Colonel's son, Charles Hardenbergh, at the death of the colonel.
In 1806 Isabella was sold to John Neely, along with a herd of sheep, near Kingston, New York for $100. Then she was sold in 1808, for $105, to Martinus Schryver of Kingston, New York, where she stayed for 18 months. She was sold again in 1810, for $175, to John Dumont of New Paltz, New York]. Isabella suffered many hardships at the hands of Mrs. Dumont, whom Isabella later described as cruel and harsh.
Around 1815, Isabella met and fell in love with a slave named Robert from a neighboring farm, Robert's owner forbade the relationship because he did not want his slave having children with a slave he did not own (and therefore would not own the new 'property'). Robert was savagely beaten and never returned. Soon after that, Isabella had a daughter, named Diana (1815)[4]. In 1817, Isabella was forced, by her owner Dumont, to marry an older slave named Thomas. They had four children, Peter (1822), James (1823), Elizabeth (1825), and Sophia (1826)
The state of New York began, in 1799, to legislate the abolition of slavery, which was to take place July 4, 1827. Dumont had promised Isabella 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. She continued working until she felt she had done enough to satisfy her sense of obligation to him. Late in 1826, Isabella escaped to freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia. She had to leave her other children behind because they were not legally freed in the emancipation order until they had served as bound servants into their twenties.
"I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right."
She found her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagener, a Quaker family [5], who took her and her baby in. Isaac offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year (until the state's emancipation took effect), which her owner, Dumont, accepted for $20[3]. She resided there until the New York State Emancipation Act was approved a year later.
Isabella learned that her son Peter, now 5 years old, had been sold illegally by Dumont to an owner in Alabama. With the help of Quaker activists, she took the issue to court, after months of legal proceedings, she got her son back
Isabella had a life-changing religious experience during her stay with the Van Wageners, and became a devout Christian. In 1829 she moved with her son Peter to New York City, where she worked for Elijah Pierson, a Christian Evangelist, as a housekeeper. In 1834 she met Robert Matthews, also know as Matthias Kingdom, or as Prophet Matthias, and went to work for him[2] as a housekeeper. In a bizarre twist of fate, Elijah Pierson died, and Robert Matthews and Isabella were accused of stealing and poisoning Pierson. Both were acquitted and Robert Matthews moved to the west
In 1839, Isabella's son, Peter, took a job on a whaling ship called the Zone of Nanucket. From 1840 to 1841, she received five letters from him. When the ship returned to port in 1842, Peter was not on board and Isabella never heard from him again

The Spirit calls me
On June 1, 1843, Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth and told friends, "The Spirit calls me, and I must go." She left to make her way traveling and preaching about abolition. In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Massachusetts. Founded by abolitionists, they supported women's right, religious tolerance, and they were pacifists. There were 210 members and they lived on 500 acres, raising livestock, running a sawmill, a gristmill, and a silk factory. While there, Sojourner Truth met William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglas, and David Ruggles (an African-American Printer). In 1846, the group disbanded, unable to support itself[3]. In 1847, she went to work for George Benson as a housekeeper. He was the brother-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison. In 1849, Sojourner visited her former owner, John Dumont, before he moved west.
She 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[3]. That same year she purchased a home in Northampton for $300.
In 1851 she left Northampton to join George Thompson, an abolitionist and speaker. In May she attended the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio where she delivered her famous speech. Ain't I a Woman, a slogan she adopted from one of the most famous abolitionist images, that of a kneeling female slave with the caption "Am I Not a Woman and a Sister". [6][2].
Reminiscences by Frances D. Gage
Akron Convention, Akron, Ohio, May 1851
"There were very few women in those days who dared to "speak in meeting"; and the august teachers of the people were seemingly getting the better of us, while the boys in the galleries, and the sneerers among the pews, were hugely enjoying the discomfiture, as they supposed, of the "strong-minded." Some of the tender-skinned friends were on the point of losing dignity, and the atmosphere betokened a storm. When, slowly from her seat in the corner rose Sojourner Truth, who, till now, had scarcely lifted her head. "Don't let her speak!" gasped half a dozen in my ear. She moved slowly and solemnly to the front, laid her old bonnet at her feet, and turned her great speaking eyes to me. There was a hissing sound of disapprobation above and below. I rose and announced "Sojourner Truth," and begged the audience to keep silence for a few moments."
"The tumult subsided at once, and every eye was fixed on this almost Amazon form, which stood nearly six feet high, head erect, and eyes piercing the upper air like one in a dream. At her first word there was a profound hush. She spoke in deep tones, which, though not loud, reached every ear in the house, and away through the throng at the doors and windows."

From 1851 to 1853, she worked with Marius Robinson, the editor of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Bugle, travelling around the state speaking. In 1853, she spoke at a suffragist "mob convention" at the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City and she met Harriet Beecher Stowe[2]. In 1856, Sojourner traveled to Battle Creek, Michigan, to speak to Friends of Human Progress arranged by a Michigan Quaker Henry Willis. And in 1858, someone accused her of being a man while she was speaking in Indiana, so she opened her blouse and revealed her breasts

"Ain't I a Woman?"
Sojourner Truth gave her famous speech (alternatively known as Ar'n't I a Woman?) in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention
(The speech has been revised from the 19th century dialect style it is often recorded in and several different versions exist.)

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say

--Sojourner Truth

On a mission
Sojourner sold her home in Northampton in 1857, and bought a house in Harmonia, Michigan, just west of Battle Creek[3]. Sojourner's family in 1860, was listed by a Calhoun County, Michigan census as Elizabeth Banks, age 35, grandsons Sammy Banks, age 8 and James "Colvin" (Caldwell), age 16.
Truth's carte de visite, which she sold to raise money (see inscription).
During the American Civil War, she helped recruit black troops for the Union. James Caldwell, her grandson, enlisted in the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts. In 1864 she was employed by the National Freedman's Relief Association in Washington, D.C., where she worked diligently to better conditions for African-Americans. In October of that year she met (then U.S. President) Abraham Lincoln. In 1865, while working at the Freedman's Hospital in Washington,D.C., she rode in the streetcars to help force desegregation.
In 1867, she moved from Harmonia to Battle Creek. In 1868, she traveled to western New York and visited with Amy Post, and continued traveling all over the east coast. When she was invited to speak at a meeting in Florence, Massachusetts, she had just returned from a very tiring trip. When she was called upon to speak, she stood up and said,
"Children, I have come here like the rest of you, to hear what I have to say."
In 1870, she asked the Federal Government to grant land , in the west, to former slaves, a project she worked on for seven years, with no results. While in Washington, D.C. she met with President Grant in the White House.
In 1872, Sojourner returned to Battle Creek, she attempted to vote in the U.S. Presidential election for Grant, but was turned away at the polling place
Sojourner spoke about abolition, women's rights, prison reform, and preached to the Michigan Legislature against capital punishment. Not everyone welcomed her preaching and lectures, some thought her crazy and ignorant, but she had many friends and staunch support among many influential people at the time, including Amy Post, Parker Pillsbury, Mrs. Frances Gage, Wendell Phillips, William Garrison, Laura Smith Haviland, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony."
Sojourner Truth died November 26, 1883. She was at her home in Michigan with her children and her grandchildren. Near the end she is purported to have said, "I'm goin' home, like a shootin' star". She lived long enough to see her people free."

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