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Reference Synopsis: Born in New York circa 1797, Sojourner Truth…

Reference

Synopsis: Born in New York circa 1797, Sojourner Truth was the self-given name, from
1843 onward, of Isabella Baumfree, an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights
activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, but escaped with her infant
daughter to freedom in 1826. Her best-known speech on racial inequalities, “Ain’t I a
Woman?” was delivered extemporaneously in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights
Convention.
Born Into Slavery
Born Isabella Baumfree circa 1797, Sojourner Truth was one of as many as 12 children
born to James and Elizabeth Baumfree in the town of Swartekill, in Ulster County, New
York. Truth’s date of birth was not recorded, as was typical of children born into slavery, but
historians estimate that she was likely born around 1797. Her father, James Baumfree, was
a slave captured in modern-day Ghana; Elizabeth Baumfree, also known as Mau-Mau Bet,
was the daughter of slaves from Guinea. The Baumfree family was owned by Colonel
Hardenberg and lived at the colonel’s estate in Esopus, New York, 95 miles north of New
York City. The area had once been under Dutch control, and both the Baumfrees and the
Hardenbergs spoke Dutch in their daily lives.
By Biography.com Editors and A+E Networks on 08.05.16
Word Count 1,539

This article is available at 5 reading levels at 1

After the colonel’s death, ownership of the Baumfrees passed to his son, Charles. The
Baumfrees were separated after the death of Charles Hardenberg in 1806. The 9-year-old
Truth, known as “Belle” at the time, was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100.
Her new owner was a man named John Neely, whom Truth remembered as harsh and
violent. She would be sold twice more over the following two years, finally coming to reside
on the property of John Dumont in West Park, New York. It was during these years that
Truth learned to speak English for the first time.
Becoming A Wife And Mother
Around 1815, Truth fell in love with a slave named Robert from a neighboring farm. The two
had a daughter, Diana. Robert’s owner forbade the relationship, since Diana and any
subsequent children produced by the union would be the property of John Dumont rather
than himself. Robert and Sojourner Truth never saw each other again. In 1817, Dumont
compelled Truth to marry an older slave named Thomas. Their marriage produced two
sons, James and Peter, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Sophia.
Early Years Of Freedom
The state of New York, which had begun to negotiate the abolition of slavery in 1799,
emancipated all slaves on July 4, 1827. The shift did not come soon enough for Truth. After
John Dumont reneged on a promise to emancipate Truth in late 1826, she escaped to
freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia. Her other daughters and sons stayed behind.
Shortly after her escape, Truth learned that her son Peter, then 5 years old, had been
illegally sold to a man in Alabama. She took the issue to court and eventually secured
Peter’s return from the South. The case was one of the first in which a black woman
successfully challenged a white man in a United States court.
Sojourner Truth’s early years of freedom were marked by several strange hardships.
Having converted to Christianity, Truth moved with her son Peter to New York City in 1829,
where she worked as a housekeeper for Christian evangelist Elijah Pierson. She then
moved on to the home of Robert Matthews, also known as Prophet Matthias, for whom she
also worked as a domestic. Matthews had a growing reputation as a con man and a cult
leader. Shortly after Truth changed households, Elijah Pierson died. Robert Matthews was
accused of poisoning Pierson in order to benefit from his personal fortune, and the
Folgers, a couple who were members of his cult, attempted to implicate Truth in the crime.
In the absence of adequate evidence, Matthews was acquitted. Having become a favorite
subject of the penny press, he subsequently moved West. In 1835 Truth brought a slander
suit against the Folgers and won.

This article is available at 5 reading levels at 2

After Truth’s successful rescue of her son Peter from slavery in Alabama, the boy stayed
with his mother until 1839. At that time, Peter took a job on a whaling ship called the Zone
of Nantucket. Truth received three letters from her son between 1840 and 1841. When the
ship returned to port in 1842, however, Peter was not on board. Truth never heard from him
again.
Fighting For Abolition And Women’s Rights
On June 1, 1843, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth, devoting her
life to Methodism and the abolition of slavery. In 1844, she joined the Northampton
Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. Founded by
abolitionists, the organization supported a broad reform agenda including women’s rights
and pacifism. Members lived together on 500 acres as a self-sufficient community. Truth
met a number of leading abolitionists in Northampton, including William Lloyd Garrison,
Frederick Douglass and David Ruggles.
Although the Northampton community disbanded in 1846, Sojourner Truth’s career as an
activist and reformer was just beginning. In 1850 her memoirs were published under the
title The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. Truth dictated her recollections to a
friend, Olive Gilbert, since she could not read or write, and William Lloyd Garrison wrote
the book’s preface. That same year, Truth spoke at the first National Women’s Rights
Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. She soon began touring regularly with
abolitionist George Thompson, speaking to large crowds on the subjects of slavery and
human rights. She was one of several escaped slaves, along with Frederick Douglass and
Harriet Tubman, to rise to prominence as an abolitionist leader and a testament to the
humanity of enslaved people.
In May of 1851, Truth delivered a speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron.
The extemporaneous speech, recorded by several observers, would come to be known as
“Ain’t I a Woman?” The first version of the speech, published a month later by Marius
Robinson, editor of Ohio newspaper The Anti-Slavery Bugle, did not include the question
“Ain’t I a woman?” even once. Marius Robinson had attended the convention and recorded
Truth’s words himself. The famous phrase would appear in print 12 years later, as the
refrain of a Southern-tinged version of the speech. It is unlikely that Sojourner Truth, a
native of New York whose first language was Dutch, would have spoken in this Southern
idiom.
Truth continued to tour Ohio from 1851 to 1853, working closely with Robinson to publicize
the antislavery movement in the state. As Truth’s reputation grew and the abolition
movement gained momentum, she drew increasingly larger and more hospitable
audiences. Even in abolitionist circles, some of Truth’s opinions were considered radical.
She sought political equality for all women and chastised the abolitionist community for

This article is available at 5 reading levels at 3

failing to seek civil rights for black women as well as men. She openly expressed concern
that the movement would fizzle after achieving victories for black men, leaving both white
and black women without suffrage and other key political rights.
Advocacy During The Civil War
Sojourner Truth put her reputation to work during the Civil War, helping to recruit black
troops for the Union Army. She encouraged her grandson, James Caldwell, to enlist in the
54th Massachusetts Regiment. In 1864, Truth was called to Washington, D.C., to contribute
to the National Freedman’s Relief Association. On at least one occasion, Truth met and
spoke with then-President Abraham Lincoln about her beliefs and her experience.
True to her broad reform ideals, Truth continued to agitate for change even after Lincoln’s
Emancipation Proclamation. In 1865, Truth attempted to force the desegregation of horse
cars in Washington by riding in cars designated for whites. A major project of her later life
was the movement to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves.

She argued that ownership of private property, and particularly land, would give African-
Americans self-sufficiency and free them from a kind of indentured servitude to wealthy

landowners. Although Truth pursued this goal forcefully for many years, she was unable to
sway Congress.
Death And Legacy
Sojourner Truth died at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan, on November 26, 1883. She is
buried alongside her family at Battle Creek’s Oak Hill Cemetery. Until old age intervened,
Truth continued to speak passionately on the subjects of women’s rights, universal suffrage
and prison reform. She was also an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, testifying
before the Michigan state legislature against the practice. She also championed prison
reform in Michigan and across the country. While always controversial, Truth was
embraced by a community of reformers including Amy Post, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd
Garrison, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony—friends with whom she collaborated until
the end of her life.
Truth is remembered as one of the foremost leaders of the abolition movement and an
early advocate of women’s rights. Although she began her career as an abolitionist, the
reform causes she sponsored were broad and varied, including prison reform, property
rights and universal suffrage. Abolition was one of the few causes that Truth was able to
see realized in her lifetime. Her fear that abolitionism would falter before achieving equality
for women proved prophetic.
The Constitutional Amendment barring suffrage discrimination based on sex was not
ratified until 1920, nearly four decades after Sojourner Truth’s death.

Quiz: Sojourner Truth

 

1. Which of the following selections from the biography BEST shows how slavery affected Sojourner Truth’s childhood? 

 

(A) Truth’s date of birth was not recorded, as was typical of children born into slavery, but historians estimate that she was likely born around 1797. 

(B) The Baumfree family was owned by Colonel Hardenberg and lived at the colonel’s estate in Esopus, New York, 95 miles north of New York City. 

(C) The area had once been under Dutch control, and both the Baumfrees and the Hardenbergs spoke Dutch in their daily lives. 

(D) The 9-year-old Truth, known as “Belle” at the time, was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100. 

 

2. Which of the following aspects of Sojourner Truth’s life is NOT thoroughly discussed? 

 

(A) how she escaped from slavery 

(B) what happened to her parents 

(C) a famous speech she delivered 

(D) her political beliefs and actions 

 

3. Which paragraph in the section “Fighting For Abolition And Women’s Rights” BEST reflects the idea that Sojourner Truth’s political ideas broke from the norms of the abolitionist community? 

 

(A) On June 1, 1843, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth, devoting her life to Methodism and the abolition of slavery. In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. Founded by abolitionists, the organization supported a broad reform agenda including women’s rights and pacifism. Members lived together on 500 acres as a self-sufficient community. Truth met a number of leading abolitionists in Northampton, including William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and David Ruggles.

 

(B) Although the Northampton community disbanded in 1846, Sojourner Truth’s career as an activist and reformer was just beginning. In 1850 her memoirs were published under the title The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. Truth dictated her recollections to a friend, Olive Gilbert, since she could not read or write, and William Lloyd Garrison wrote the book’s preface. That same year, Truth spoke at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. She soon began touring regularly with abolitionist George Thompson, speaking to large crowds on the subjects of slavery and human rights. She was one of several escaped slaves, along with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, to rise to prominence as an abolitionist leader and a testament to the humanity of enslaved people.

 

(C) In May of 1851, Truth delivered a speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron. The extemporaneous speech, recorded by several observers, would come to be known as “Ain’t I a Woman?” The first version of the speech, published a month later by Marius Robinson, editor of Ohio newspaper The Anti-Slavery Bugle, did not include the question “Ain’t I a woman?” even once. Marius Robinson had attended the convention and recorded Truth’s words himself. The famous phrase would appear in print 12 years later, as the refrain of a Southern-tinged version of the speech. It is unlikely that Sojourner Truth, a native of New York whose first language was Dutch, would have spoken in this Southern idiom.

 

(D) Truth continued to tour Ohio from 1851 to 1853, working closely with Robinson to publicize the antislavery movement in the state. As Truth’s reputation grew and the abolition movement gained momentum, she drew increasingly larger and more hospitable audiences. Even in abolitionist circles, some of Truth’s opinions were considered radical. She sought political equality for all women and chastised the abolitionist community for failing to seek civil rights for black women as well as men. She openly expressed concern that the movement would fizzle after achieving victories for black men, leaving both white and black women without suffrage and other key political rights.

 

4. Truth devoted herself to many political causes in addition to the abolition of slavery. Which citation BEST supports the main idea above? 

 

(A) She openly expressed concern that the movement would fizzle after achieving victories for black men, leaving both white and black women without suffrage and other key political rights. 

 

(B) She argued that ownership of private property, and particularly land, would give African-Americans self-sufficiency and free them from a kind of indentured servitude to wealthy landowners. 

 

(C) While always controversial, Truth was embraced by a community of reformers including Amy Post, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony—friends with whom she collaborated until the end of her life. 

 

(D) Although she began her career as an abolitionist, the reform causes she sponsored were broad and varied, including prison reform, property rights and universal suffrage.

 

 

5. Read the selection from the biography. 

 

She soon began touring regularly with abolitionist George Thompson, speaking to large crowds on the subjects of slavery and human rights. She was one of several escaped slaves, along with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, to rise to prominence as an abolitionist leader and testify to the humanity of enslaved people. 

 

Which of the following can be inferred from the selection above? 

 

(A) Truth was good friends with Douglass and Tubman. 

(B) Truth was a talented public speaker. 
(C) Truth was only concerned with the abolitionist movement. 

(D) Truth was the most famous abolitionist of her time. 

 

6. Which idea is BEST supported by the text in the section “Early Years Of Freedom”? 

 

(A) Truth had deep knowledge of the U.S. legal system. 

(B) Truth was an early advocate for women’s rights. 

(C) Truth had a very talented lawyer on her side. 

(D) Truth took her freedom into her own hands. 

 

7. Which of the following sentences from the biography BEST develops a central idea? 

 

(A) The 9-year-old Truth, known as “Belle” at the time, was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100. 

(B) The state of New York, which had begun to negotiate the abolition of slavery in 1799, emancipated all slaves on July 4, 1827. 

(C) She sought political equality for all women and chastised the abolitionist community for failing to seek civil rights for black women as well as black men. 

(D) In 1865, Truth attempted to force the desegregation of horse cars in Washington by riding in cars designated for whites.

 

8. Read the sentence from the section “Death And Legacy.” 

 

Until old age intervened, Truth continued to speak passionately on the subjects of women’s rights, universal suffrage and prison reform. 

 

Does this sentence support the main idea of the biography? Why? 

 

(A) Yes; it shows that Truth was active until she was very old. 

(B) Yes; it emphasizes Truth’s commitment to her many causes. 

(C) No; it does not explain why Truth eventually stopped speaking. 

(D) No; it does not relate to Truth’s work as an abolitionist.

9. Which section highlights Truth’s involvement as an activist? 

 

(A) “Born Into Slavery” 

(B) “Becoming A Wife And Mother” 

(C) “Early Years Of Freedom” 

(D) “Fighting For Abolition And Women’s Rights” 

 

10. Select the paragraph from the section “Fighting For Abolition And Women’s Rights” that explains how Sojourner Truth began sharing her beliefs with large groups of people. 

 

(A) In 1843, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth, devoting her life to the Methodist religion and the abolition, or end, of slavery. In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. Founded by abolitionists, the organization supported big changes, including more rights for women and peace for everyone. Truth met a number of leading abolitionists in Northampton, including William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass and David Ruggles.

 

(B) In 1850, Truth published her life story in the book The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. That same year, she spoke at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. Truth soon began traveling regularly with abolitionist George Thompson, speaking to large crowds about slavery and human rights. She was one of several escaped slaves, along with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, to rise to prominence as an abolitionist leader and an example of the human side of enslaved people.

 

(C) In 1851, Truth delivered a speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron. The improvised speech, recorded by several observers, would come to be known as “Ain’t I a Woman?” Various versions of the speech were printed in newspapers and other sources in the years that followed.

 

(D) Truth continued to travel around Ohio from 1851 to 1853, working to promote the antislavery movement. As Truth’s reputation and the movement grew, she drew increasingly larger audiences. Even in abolitionist circles, some of Truth’s opinions were considered revolutionary for the times. She believed in political equality for all women, and chastised the abolitionist community for failing to seek civil rights for black women as well as black men.

 

11. Which statement would be MOST important to include in a summary of the biography? 

 

(A) Truth was separated from her family when she was 9 years old. 

(B) Truth fell in love with another slave, but was not allowed to marry him. 

(C) Truth was an abolitionist and also fought for women’s rights. 

(D) Truth did not live to see women gain the right to vote. 

 

12. Which two of the following sentences from the biography include central ideas of the biography? 

 

1. The Baumfree family was owned by Colonel Hardenberg in New York, and then later by his son. 

2. In 1817, Dumont forced Truth to marry an older slave named Thomas, with whom she had two sons and two daughters. 

3. In 1843, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth, devoting her life to the Methodist religion and the abolition, or end, of slavery. 

4. Even in abolitionist circles, some of Truth’s opinions were considered revolutionary for the times. 

 

(A) 1 and 2 

(B) 2 and 3 

(C) 3 and 4 

(D) 1 and 4

 

13. Based on information in the biography, which of these statements is TRUE? 

 

(A) Truth and her children were sold into slavery when she was an adult. 

(B) Truth was freed from slavery after the North won the Civil War. 

(C) Truth was the first black woman to win a court case against a white man. 

(D) Truth began fighting for women’s rights only after slavery ended. 

 

14. Which sentence from the biography BEST supports the idea that Truth worked to improve the lives of African-Americans after slavery ended? 

 

(A) In 1850, Truth published her life story in the book “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave.” 

(B) Truth continued to travel around Ohio from 1851 to 1853, working to end slavery. 

(C) She also met and spoke with then-President Abraham Lincoln, who was also against slavery. 

(D) Truth fought to help former slaves get their own land from the government. 

 

15. Which of the following are TWO main ideas from the biography? 

 

(A) Truth was born as Isabella Baumfree and eventually changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She fought for the freedom of her son, Peter. 

(B) Truth was born into slavery and eventually escaped. She devoted her life to many causes, especially antislavery efforts and women’s rights. 

(C) Truth traveled around Ohio in the 1950s making speeches about her life to large crowds. She is famous for her speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” 

(D) Truth worked to get the government to give land to former slaves. She was also a member of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. 

 

16. Which detail BEST reflects the main idea that Truth was a talented public speaker? 

 

(A) She won a court case to free her son Peter from slavery. 

(B) She joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. 

(C) She made speeches about slavery that drew large crowds. 

(D) She spoke to President Abraham Lincoln about her beliefs.

 

17. Which question is answered in paragraph 3 of “Early Years Of Freedom”?

(A) What was Truth’s childhood like?
(B) How did Truth spread her ideas?
(C) What are women’s rights?
(D) Where did Truth travel in the U.S.?

18. Which selection from the section “Advocacy During The Civil War” explains why Truth wanted freed slaves to have land?

 

(A) During the Civil War, Truth met with then-President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
(B) Lincoln freed all the country’s slaves in 1863. Truth kept fighting for their rights.
(C) She tried to help freed slaves get land from the government.
(D) She said that owning land would help African-Americans be successful.

 

19. Which sentence from the last two sections of the biography describes the main idea of the
biography?

 

(A) During the Civil War, Truth met with then-President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.
(B) Lincoln freed all the country’s slaves in 1863.
(C) As she grew older, Truth continued to give speeches.
(D) Truth is remembered as one of the leaders of efforts against slavery and an early supporter of women’s rights.

 

20. What is the main idea of the section “A Life Of Slavery”?
(A) Truth lived as a slave for the first half of her life.
(B) Truth was born with the name Isabella Baumfree.
(C) Truth fell in love with a slave who she was not allowed to marry.
(D) Truth eventually had four children with an older slave.

 

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