Key facts about acclaimed abolitionist and women's rights supporter Sojourner Truth.
- Isabella (Belle) Baumfree
- c. 1797
- Ulster County, New York
- James and Elizabeth Baumfree
- Abolitionist, author, human rights activist
- Thomas (last name unknown)
Place of Death:
- Battle Creek, Michigan
Date of Death:
- November 26, 1883
Place of Burial:
- Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan
- Acclaimed abolitionist and women’s rights supporter Sojourner Truth was born into slavery as Isabella (Belle) Baumfree sometime between 1797 and 1800 near Hurley, in Ulster County, New York.
- Isabella Baumfree was the second youngest of James and Betsey Baumfree’s ten to twelve children.
- When she was born, Isabella Baumfree was the “property” of one Colonel Hardenbergh (Ardinburgh).
- As a youngster, Isabella Baumfree knew only about one half of her siblings because the rest were sold to other slaveholders before she was old enough to remember them.
- During her childhood, Isabella Baumfree was purchased and sold several times by slaveholders.
- In 1815, Isabella Baumfree’s owner, John J. Dumont, forced her to marry another slave named Thomas, and subsequently give birth to five children.
- In January 1827, Isabella Baumfree escaped from her owner’s farm.
- In 1827, Isaac Van Wagenen paid Isabella Baumfree’s owner twenty dollars for her services until the effective date of New York’s mandated manumission. On July 4, 1827, the new law took effect and Baumfree became a free woman.
- During the late 1820s, Isabella Baumfree converted to Christianity and was swept up by the Second Great Awakening.
- Isabella Baumfree’s religious fervor prompted her to move to New York City with her son, Peter, in 1829.
- While living in New York City, in 1834, Isabella Baumfree, then known as Isabella Van Wagenen, was charged with murdering a wealthy religious zealot named Elijah Pierson, but was acquitted at trial.
- In 1843, Isabella Van Wagenen joined the Methodist Church, and on June 1, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth.
- In 1844, Truth joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a communal society in Massachusetts that promoted equality and justice.
- While living with the Northampton Association of Education and Industry community, Sojourner Truth met other influential progressives of the period including William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles.
- When the Northampton community foundered in 1845, Sojourner Truth joined the household of George Benson, William Lloyd Garrison’s brother-in-law.
- Sojourner Truth never learned to read or write.
- In 1850, Sojourner Truth dictated the accounts of her life to Olive Gilbert, which were published as the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave, Emancipated from Bodily Servitude by the State of New York, in 1828.
- During the 1870s, Sojourner Truth’s friend and informal manager, Frances Titus, released a second edition of her memoirs, adding the “Book of Life,” a collection of essays, articles, and letters from Truth’s admirers.
- In 1884, the year after Sojourner Truth’s death, Frances Titus published a final edition of Truth’s memoirs that included “A Memorial Chapter.”
- The first edition of Sojourner Truth’s Narrative sold well enough for Truth to purchase a home of her own at 35 Park Street in Northampton, Massachusetts.
- On May 29, 1851, while attending the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Sojourner Truth delivered her now-legendary “Ain’t I a Woman” speech demanding equal human rights for women as well as for blacks.
- Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech was one of the more memorable orations in American history, but it is questionable if she ever uttered the phrase during her remarks.
- Sojourner Truth spoke at the first annual Woman’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, on October 23, 1851.
- In 1857, Sojourner Truth purchased a home in Harmonia, a small Spiritualist community, and relocated to Michigan.
- During the Civil War, Sojourner Truth scoured Michigan recruiting black soldiers for the Union and collecting food and clothing to sustain them after they marched off to battle.
- In 1864, Sojourner Truth journeyed to Washington, D.C., where she visited President Abraham Lincoln in the White House on October 29. Afterwards, she stayed in the area and obtained employment at the Freedman’s Hospital.
- On December 1, 1864, Sojourner Truth received an appointment as counselor with the National Freedman’s Relief Association.
- After the Civil War, Sojourner Truth lived at Freedman’s Village from January to June 1865.
- Truth’s duties with the Freedman’s Hospital required her to travel into Washington from the Freedman’s Village. In 1865, District of Columbia authorities enacted legislation desegregating public transportation in the city. Nonetheless, white streetcar conductors often ignored the law and refused to allow black passengers to board their vehicles. Undaunted, Truth jumped aboard stationary streetcars whenever opportunities were available.
- In 1865, a streetcar conductor dislocated Sojourner Truth’s arm while trying to forcibly remove her from his vehicle. In return, Truth initiated a successful lawsuit that cost the conductor his job and prompted the streetcar company to enforce the District of Columbia’s desegregation law.
- In 1867, Sojourner Truth moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, converting the Merritt barn on College Street into her new home.
- During the 1870s, Sojourner Truth failed in her attempts to convince the federal government to provide former slaves with free homesteads in the West so that they could become self-supporting.
- When a large contingent of freedmen migrated to Kansas in 1879, Sojourner Truth travelled there to help them settle, despite her advanced age.
- Sojourner Truth died at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan, on November 26, 1883, of unreported causes.
- Sojourner Truth’s grave marker lists her age as “about 105 years,” but her actual age at the time of her death was more likely shy of ninety years.
- More than a century after her death, in 2009, Sojourner Truth became the first black woman honored with a bust in the U.S. Capitol.
- In 2014, the Smithsonian Institution listed Sojourner Truth as one of the 100 most significant individuals in American history.