By: Lisa Breininger
Here at the Rohrbach Library, we are kicking off Black History Month! We will be bringing you history on several African American’s that can further be explored through the Library’s resources, and we are starting with some information about Sojourner Truth.
“I carry no weapon; the Lord will preserve me without weapons. I feel safe even in the midst of my enemies; for the truth is powerful and will prevail.” –Sojourner Truth
Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth) was born into slavery. She was one of 13 born to her parents Elizabeth and James Baumfree in Ulster County, New York in 1797. Isabella was sold at the age of nine to her second master, Charles Hardenbergh. In 1808 Charles died and Isabella and a herd of sheep were sold to a man named John Neely for $100. Neely’s family beat Isabella because they had frequent miscommunications.
Isabella fell in love in 1815 with a fellow slave named Robert. Robert’s owner did not want him to have a relationship and children with a slave he did not own, because he would not own the property. Robert knowing his owner did not approve of him and Isabella he decided to go visit her one night. What he did not realize that his owner and his son had followed him. They beat him, and he never returned. Shortly after Robert never returned, Isabella had a daughter named Diana. Isabella’s owner, Dumont, forced her to marry Thomas, another slave, and they had four children together named Peter, James, Elizabeth, and Sophia.
In 1799, the state of New York began to legislate a gradual abolishment of slavery starting on July 4, 1827. Isabella’s master Dumont promised her freedom if she was faithful and worked well, but later he went back on the promise. He said that she had a hand injury that caused her to slow down work. Later she escaped and took her youngest daughter, Sophia, with her.
She found a home while wondering New York with people named Issac and Maria Van Wagenen until Dumont found her, threatened to take back her baby, and insisted she come back. Issac offered to buy Isabella for the remainder of the year. Dumont agreed and Issac and Maria told her to call them by their first names not by master. Later she found her son was sold by Dumont and sued and won.
Isabella changed her name on June 1, 1843 to Sojourner Truth. When Isabella became settled in New York she had lost everything, her possessions and savings. She began to campaign in 1870 that the federal government provide former slaves land, which ended in little success. Falling ill, getting treated, and falling ill again did not stop her from giving speeches as she toured. She gave speeches and preached about the truth of working against injustice, one of which was directed at men:
“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? . . . I have plowed, 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 five children and seen most all sold off into slavery and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard–and ain’t I a woman?” (Gale Biography in Context)
[NOTE: Due to our licensing agreement, access to Gale Biography in Context is restricted to the students, staff, and faculty at Kutztown University.]
When freed slaves started to migrate north and west in 1879, Isabella was overjoyed. In 1883 she went to seek help from a man named Dr. John Harvey Kellogg for the her ulcers on her leg. She returned home with Diana and Elizabeth, their children, and their husbands. Then, on November 26, 1883, at 86 years old she passed away and was buried next to her grandson.
Books Sojourner Truth has written:
• Narrative of Sojourner Truth, A Northern Slave
To find out more about Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth) please visit the Rohrbach Library for books about her or click here to browse some of the titles. One item, The Life of Sojourner Truth aint I a Woman, is located in the videotape section on the ground floor.
As always, if you need assistance locating materials, ask a librarian at the Research Help Desk.