Sojourner Truth was a former slave who became an abolitionist and even a women’s rights activist. Her life story is such a brave journey. Her name is so fitting. She once said, “Truth is powerful and it prevails,” and she definitely proved this to be true.
I know that your students are going to be just as impressed as I am about how Sojourner Truth fought for what she believed to be right. At the end of this article, I have included a free 25 page Sojourner Truth biography report kit. Here is a little bit about her life story.
Sojourner got the devastating news at age nine that she would be sold. Because she grew up in a Dutch speaking settlement, she did not know any English. When she was sold to an Englishmen, by the name of John Neely, he became very angry with Sojourner because she could not speak or understand English.
John Neely beat her frequently for not following orders. Sojourner was intelligent and would have done as her master demanded, but she couldn’t understand what he was saying to her. Life was extremely difficult for her. As a slave, she was constantly working and did not have time to rest properly, even as a child.
Sojourner was sold several times. Her final owner was a man by the name of John Dumont. Dumont treated her somewhat better, but his wife did not care for Sojourner and continued to make her life very difficult. Later, Sojourner fell in love with another slave named Robert. Robert worked on a nearby farm. Sadly, Dumont told Sojourner that she was not permitted to marry the man she loved. In fact, he demanded that she marry a slave that already worked on their plantation. His name was Thomas. Her master knew that if she had children with Thomas, then those children would also belong to him.
After marrying Robert, she had five children, but one of the babies died shortly after being born. Sojourner cared about her children deeply and always worried that they may be taken from her or sold to another master.
Dumont got word that all slaves in New York would be legally freed by 1827. Sometime in 1825, he told Sojourner that because she had been such a hard worker for him, he was going to free her after one more year of work. Sojourner was thrilled about this good news. She was not aware at the time that all slaves would be freed by law in 1827.
After another year of hard work, Sojourner went to Dumont and asked for the freedom that he had promised. Dumont told her that he had changed his mind, and that because of her recent hand injury, she would now be forced to work for an additional year. This news upset her terribly. She continued to spin wool for him, but after giving it some thought, Sojourner decided that she must escape. She finished up her work for the day. Bravely, she walked right off the farm and went to the house of the Van Wageners. The Van Wageners were neighbors that believed slavery was terrible and should be outlawed. Later, Sojourner was thinking about this event and said, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”
Dumont got word about where Sojourner was staying and confronted the Van Wageners. They were good people and came up with a plan to purchase Sojourner from Dumont for $20, and then free her from slavery.
It felt wonderful for Sojourner to be a free woman, but she was heartbroken that her children were not free. Dumont sold her son Peter to a slave owner in Alabama. While she was sad about this, she also felt empowered by her new freedom. Sojourner knew that it was illegal to sell a slave across the New York state line.
She took Dumont to court. This was an extremely brave move because it was rare that a woman, not to mention a slave, would take a while man to court at all. Sojourner won her court case and she was the very first African-American woman to win a case of its kind in the United States! Peter was returned to New York to be with his mother.
Everything that Sojourner had been through helped her to speak out about injustices against women and the rights of all people. She started working with abolitionists to end slavery in the United States. Though she never learned to read or write, Sojourner began traveling all around the United States to speak to people about what it was like to be a slave. During those days, many other black abolitionists spoke only to other black people. Bravely, Sojourner mainly spoke before crowds of white people.
In 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, Sojourner gave one of her most famous speeches. While she spoke out against slavery, she also focused on women’s rights. This speech became known as the famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech.
On November 26, 1883 in Michigan at her Battle Creek home, Sojourner passed away. Her bravery inspired many people in the United States. To pay their respects, over 3,000 people attended her funeral.
What a journey Sojourner had. She was so brave and set out to make a positive change for all people. Here are a few additional bits of interesting information about Sojourner you may not know:
- She met President Abraham Lincoln and told him about her life as a slave.
- When Sojourner was sold at age nine, she was purchased at an auction along with a flock of sheep for $100.
- Sojourner Truth’s real name was Isabelle Baumfree. She changed her name in 1843.
- She became a traveling preacher, as well as a political activist.
- She collected food and clothing for black regiments during the Civil War.
- She usually slept outside.
- Sojourner supported herself financially by selling an autobiography about her life and “shadow” pictures of herself (see second photo).
- She made enough money selling her autobiography and photographs that she purchased land and a home in Battle Creek, Michigan.
- In 1835 she won a court case against a man that accused her of poisoning him.
- NASA named the Mars Rover “Sojourner” after her.
I hope you and your students have found Sojourner’s story inspiring. You may want to use this FREE Sojourner Truth Biography Report Kit to write about her life accomplishments.