Former slave, former bad-ass Sojourner Truth

sojourner-truth-portrait-600x600jpgA mother, cult survivor and slave, Sojourner Truth becomes one of the most influence women in history, approaching the first wave of feminism.

Early Years

  Truth was born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree in 1797. Her family lived on an estate owned under Dutch power so she, at first, spoke Dutch. As did her family and her owner Colonel Hardenbergh.

At a further point in time she and a hearty flock of sheep were sold for a whopping $100 following the death of the Colonel in 1806. A cheap price to pay for some sheep to be slaughtered and an intellectual human being to be diminished. No biggie, though.

She was sold twice more and landed in the hands of some rich white racist in New York named John Dumont. Although this is where she learned to speak English for the first time, which would help her later.

Love Life

In these hands is where she fell in love with another slave named Robert from a farm near by. Together they had a child named Diana. Robert’s owner however wasn’t down for that, given that any children, including Diana, would be owned by Dumont instead of Robert’s owner. Robert and Isabella departed, never to be seen together again. Completely tragic.

1817 comes around and Dumont puts together this rather strange and hardly celebratory slave marriage to this other slave named Thomas, and together they popped out three tots, one son and two daughters.

Fast forward to it being just shy of the Emancipation Proclamation and Truth escapes to freedom only to encounter many hardships along the way. One of which being that she escaped with her infant daughter and left the other two behind, only to find out that her son Peter had been sold, illegally, to a guy in Alabama. He was only 5 at the time. She took the issue to court and scored her son back.

It became one of the first instances in which a woman of color challenged a white man in U.S. court. And won. 

The Weird Parts 

So in 1829 she moved to New York to be a house maid for a guy named Elijah who converts people to Christianity for a living. She then moved homes to some other guy named Robert Matthews, or to feed his ego he liked to be called Prophet Matthias (yikes).

But this “prophet” was a con man and also a cult leader, naturally. So when Elijah died shortly after Truth moved homes, it was said that Robert Matthews poisoned him for personal fortune. And of course, some weird couple in the cult tried to blame the black maid for it. Truth was accused of poisoning her previous owner.

However, in the absence of actual evidence, Matthews was acquitted for the crime, and the press ate him alive like the snake he is so he ended up moving way west. Following this, Sojourner Truth took the couple that blamed her to court for slander and won.

The Cool Kid’s Table

In 1844 she joined the cool kid group along with William Lloyd and Frederick Douglass. These cool kids were cool because they had a broad reform agenda that included women’s rights and pacifism. They all lived together on this 500 acre stretch in a tight-knit community of human rights.

While spending her time here she managed to knock out a memoir without being able to read or write. She traveled with other abolitionists giving speeches about slavery and human rights. She, along with other bad-asses like Douglass and Harriet Tubman, were escaped slaves that spoke out for the humanity of enslaved people.

1851 and Truth spits the best speech of the time period, “Ain’t I a woman?” But the thing is, the she never mentioned that phrase once. The phrase was coined by an egghead of a journalist 12 years later, when the phrase would be southern-friend and revolutionized from that point forward. After all, as a Dutch native it is unlikely that Truth would speak such a southern way.

She began speaking to larger and larger audiences; her opinions considered more and more radical. She fought for political equality for all women, black and white, and chastised some abolitionists for only addressing the rights and concerns for black men. Because women are people too. Groundbreaking.

During the Civil War she did even more to her cause by recruiting black men for the Union Army. And because she was so good at her job, she scored a spot at the white house next to Abraham Lincoln himself about her beliefs and experiences as an activist and former slave. Likely on more than one occasion.

She was outspoken about capital punishment and prison reform, something still relevant today. Near the end of her life she was embraced by the loving arms of Susan B. Anthony and friends.

In 1883 Sojourner Truth died in her home. Surely proud of her brothers and sisters that continued her fight following her death.  


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