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SOJOURNER TRUTH (c.1799-1883)

Olive Gilbert. Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Boston, 1850), frontispiece; also 1853 ed.

SOJOURNER TRUTH (ca. 1799 - 1883)

Sojourner Truth, first named Isabella Baumfree, was born a slave in Ulster County, New York. After her emancipation in 1827, when slavery was outlawed in New York State, she left her husband and five children and moved to New York City. By her own account, this emancipation involved an early morning escape prior to the enactment of the New York law. She joined a series of religious communities including the Millerites. In 1843, after William Miller’s prophesized apocalypse did not materialize, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth, and became an itinerant preacher, as her name suggests. She later became deeply involved in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements; today, she is famous for her “Ar’n’t I a Woman” speech in defense of the latter.

In 1850, Truth dictated a biography of her life to the abolitionist Olive Gilbert, and supported herself thereafter from its sale and her lectures. Truth herself was illiterate. Her religion and the abolition movement were intimately linked in her mind, as evidenced by the following excerpt from the biography about her former master who had renounced slavery:

“She thanked the Lord with fervor, that she had lived to hear her master say such blessed things! She recalled the lectures he used to give his slaves, on speaking the truth and being honest, and laughing she says he taught us not to lie and steal, when he was stealing all the time himself, and did not know it! Oh! how sweet to my mind was this confession! And what a confession for a master to make to a slave! A slaveholding master turned to a brother! Poor old man, may the Lord bless him, and all slaveholders partake of his spirit!” (p. 125)



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