The woman we know as Sojourner Truth was born into
slavery in New York as Isabella Baumfree. She was sold several times,
and while owned by the John Dumont family in Ulster County, married Thomas, another of Dumont's slaves. She had five children with Thomas. In 1827, New York
law emancipated all slaves, but Isabella had already left her husband
and run away with her youngest child. She went to work for the family of
Isaac Van Wagenen.
While working for the Van Wagenen's—whose name she
used briefly—she discovered that a member of the Dumont family had sold
one of her children to slavery in Alabama. Since this son had been
emancipated under New York Law, Isabella sued in court and won his
Isabella experienced a religious conversion, moved to New York City
and to a Methodist perfectionist commune, and there came under the
influence of a religious prophet named Mathias. The commune fell apart a
few years later, with allegations of sexual improprieties and even
murder. Isabella herself was accused of poisoning, and sued successfully
for libel. She continued as well during that time to work as a
In 1843, she took the name Sojourner Truth, believing
this to be on the instructions of the Holy Spirit and became a traveling
preacher (the meaning of her new name). In the late 1840s she connected
with the abolitionist movement, becoming a popular speaker. In 1850,
she also began speaking on woman suffrage. Her most famous speech, "Aint
I a Woman?" was given in 1851 at a women's rights convention in Ohio.
Sojourner Truth met Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote
about her for The Atlantic Monthly and wrote a new introduction to
Truth's autobiography, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.
Sojourner Truth moved to Michigan
and joined yet another religious commune, this one associated with the
Friends. She was at one point friendly with Millerites, a religious
movement that grew out of Methodism and later became the Seventh Day
During the Civil War Sojourner Truth raised food and
clothing contributions for black regiments, and met Abraham Lincoln at
the White House in 1864. While there, she tried to challenge the
discrimination that segregated street cars by race.
After the War ended, Sojourner Truth again spoke widely, advocating for some time a "Negro State"
in the west. She spoke mainly to white audiences, and mostly on
religion, civil and women's rights, and on temperance. Immediately
after the Civil War, Truth organized efforts to provide jobs for black
refugees from the war.
Active until 1875, when her grandson and companion
fell ill and died, Sojourner Truth returned to Michigan where her health
deteriorated and she died in 1883 in a Battle Creek Sanitarium of
infected ulcers on her legs. She was buried in Battle Creek, Michigan, after a very well-attended funeral.