Sojourner Truth - Ain't I a Woman?
Isabella Baumfree a.k.a. Sojourner Truth
Isabella Baumfree (c. 1797 – November 26, 1883)
Isabella Baumfree was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, in 1797, and was one of thirteen children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree.
Elizabeth and James Baumfree: Colonel Hardenbergh's slaves
James was captured in what is now Ghana (in West Africa), in an area known as the Gold Coast. Elizabeth was from the coast of Guinea (also, West Africa but was earlier called "French Guinea"). Both were not free prior to capture as both Guinea and Ghana and their respective peoples were under slavery. After their capture, they were "owned" by Colonel Hardenbergh and his estate was just north of present day Rifton, NY, in a Dutch-named area called Swartekill which was a hilly area in Esopus, NY (about 95 miles north of New York City).
Elizabeth came to be also known as Mau-Mau Bet, particularly to the children in the Swartekill area, and Mau-Mau Bet, James and their children were long-term slaves to the colonel. Even when Colonel Hardenbergh passed away (d. 1806), the Baumfree family/slaves were simply passed on to the colonel's son, Charles Hardenbergh.
Isabella Baumfree, called "Belle," was about 9 years old when the colonel died and was sold at an auction! She was part of an auction package which included a flock of sheep. John Neely, who lived near Kingston, New York, purchased Belle and the flock for $100.00. Since the Baumfree family spoke Dutch, when Belle went to Neely's estate, communication was extremely difficult in the beginning. Additionally, Neely was abusive - as was considered quite normal for slave owners at the time - so Belle suffered great hardships. At a later time, once Belle was more mature and gained a certain level of freedom and rights, she would describe Neely as extremely abusive and say he beat and raped her almost daily and was overly cruel and harsh.
Neely sold Belle for $105.00 in 1808 and she went to a tavern keeper, Martinus Schryver, in Port Ewen. This was for an 18 month duration and then Belle was sold again in 1810, for $175.00, to John Dumont of West Park, New York. Although this fourth owner, Mr. Dumont treated her with much more humaneness than previous owners, Dumont's wife harrassed her, found ways to make Belle's life difficult.
Famous Speech: Ain't I a Woman?!
That man over there say
a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
and to have the best place everywhere.
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
or over mud puddles
or gives me a best place. . .
And ain't I a woman?
Look at me
Look at my arm!
I have plowed and planted
and gathered into barns
and no man could head me. . .
And ain't I a woman?
I could work as much
and eat as much as a man--
when I could get to it--
and bear the lash as well
and ain't I a woman?
I have born 13 children
and seen most all sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother's grief
none but Jesus heard me. . .
and ain't I a woman?
that little man in black there say
a woman can't have as much rights as a man
cause Christ wasn't a woman
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothing to do with him!
If the first woman God ever made
was strong enough to turn the world
upside down, all alone
together women ought to be able to turn it
rightside up again.
Bell3 Finds Love and Loss, Then a Loveless Marriage and more.
A slave named, Robert, from a neighboring farm caught Belle's eye. In 1815, Belle met and fell in love with him. Robert's owner, Mr. Catlin forbade made it clear that this relationship was forbidden because he didn't want his slave, Robert, to end up siring children with a slave, Bella, that he didn't own. If that were to happen, then Mr. Catlin wouldn't own the offspring and this was an unattractive idea for him. Unfortunately, because of fear that the relationship would continue in secret, Robert was punished. He was beaten ever so severely and Belle never saw him again. Robert eventually died from these injuries.
The year 1817 was when Belle was forced, by her owner (Dumont), to marry. Dumont set up the marriage between Belle and a man named Thomas and in this loveless union, Bella bore 5 children from Thomas.
She had 5 children - Diana (1815) who was from the brief union with Robert, and four children by Thomas.
Children with Thomas: Thomas who died shortly after birth, Peter (1821), Elizabeth (1825), and Sophia (1826).
Dumont promised to let Bella go free at a certain time but later changed his mind about a year before the abolition of slavery.
Angered, she worked for him until such time as she deemed she had done enough manual labour to fulfill what she thought was her obligation. This ended up being the labour of spinning 100 pounds of wool - and then in late 1826, Belle grabbed her infant baby girl, Sophia, and escaped from Dumont. She left her other children behind because of certain laws which applied to them as slaves and meant that if she took the other children, she would have "stolen property/slaves" and could be arrested, thus ensuring that none of them would be free.
Belle fled with Sophia and ended up in the home of Maria and Isaac Van Wagener. There had been a movement already started by law - to emancipate slaves, and many hoped it wouldn't be too much longer 'til the new laws were drafted and enforced properly, but even so, Isaac Van Wegener decided to just pay for Belle's services for the remainder of the year (because the law would never be finalized in time to ensure Bella and Sophia's safety). Basically, he "bought" her from Dumont, who settled for $20.
In this safer home with the Van Wegener's, Belle and Sophia stayed until the New York State Emancipation Act was approved about a year later. Once this act was approved, Belle set immediately to work on finding the rest of her children and getting her family back together.
Dumont had sold Belle's son, Peter, illegally, and the Van Wegeners supported Belle's efforts to track down the Alabama farmer Peter had been sold to. The Van Wegeners also helped Bella through a court process to get Peter back. Although Peter was being abused by his new owner and the court process took several months, Bella did manage to get Peter back.
Belle was the first black woman to go against a white man in a court of law - and win her case!
Alice Walker presents a reading of Sojourner Truth's words, "Ain't I a Woman" speech
A Life-Changing Religious Experience, Name Change and Finding Her Voice...
While she and Sophia were staying with the Van Wegeners, Belle had some sort of religious experience, some say a conversion experience, and she became a devout Christian woman.
Belle was able to move, this time also taking her son, Peter, with her. In 1829 they went to New York City and here, she supported her little family by housekeeping for a Christian Evangelist, Elijah Pierson. Around 1832 Bella also met Robert Matthews.
Robert Mathews was also known as Prophet Matthias and as Matthias Kingdom, and Bella became his housekeeper.
Unfortunately, with Mr. Matthews' inconspicuous presence in the area, when Elijah Peterson died suddenly right around the time Belle and Mathews were becoming acquainted, they were both accused of causing Peterson's death as well as stealing from Elijah Peterson. People said the two had poisoned Mr. Peters and a case on these matters even went to court. Both Matthews and Belle were acquitted of the charges but immediately following the court events, Matthews decided to move away from the region and out west.
Bella's Son, Peter:
Peter took a job on a whaling ship in 1839, working on the ship called, Zone of Nantucket. Belle received three letters from Peter during the years 1840-1841, although in the third letter she received, Peter asserted that he'd sent her five letters, all told. Zone of Nantucket returned to port in 1842 but Bella's son, Peter, was not on board and he was not heard from again.
The Spirit Calls...
Belle heard a call and told her friends, "The Spirit calls me, and I must go." June 1, 1843 is the day whereby Belle officially changed her name to Sojourner Truth . She became a Methodist with a very solid position against oppression, travelling and preaching against slavery in the most outspoken way.
In 1844, the woman now known as Sojourner Truth joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, the association headquarters location, in Northampton, Massachusetts. The association is known for supporting women's rights, religious tolerance and concepts of pacifism and was founded by abolitionists. The group was comprised of approximately 210 members around 1844, and they owned and managed 500 acres near to Northampton, raised livestock, ran a sawmill, a gristmill (makes grain/corn into flour), and also a silk factory. The group disbanded around 1846 because it was unable to support itself, but Sojourner Truth had met some key people (William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, David Ruggles) involved with the association before it fell apart and later went to work (1847) for a brother in law to Garrison, named, George Benson.
When Truth started dictating her memoirs (she was illiterate) to Olive Gilbert and in 1850, William Lloyd Garrison privately published her memoirs for her. The book: The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave . In the same year, Sojourner Truth was able to purchase a home for $300 and was a speaker at Worcester, Massachusetts for the very first Women's Rights Convention in the region.
The 1851 Speech, "Ain't I a Woman?"
As a strong woman's advocate, Sojourner Truth went on the road by 1851, speaking at women's rights conventions that were spreading around the region. Her "Ain't I a Woman" speech was presented in May, 1851, at Akron, Ohio as part of the Ohio Women's Rights Convention. Convention organizers, Hannah Tracy and Frances Dana Barker Gage were present when Truth spoke the words that would later become famous.
There have been different versions of Truth's speech go round, but a version that Gage produced around 12 years after the original oration is the version that has become the historical standard and which includes the question "Ain't I a woman" a number of times.
Criticisms of the "southern" speech pattern and inflections haven't managed to outshine the version presented here even though historians agree that Truth would not have orated completely in a southern style. Truth spoke Dutch until nine years of age and she was born and raised in New York, remember?
The discrepancies over this "southern" version haven't managed to lessen the appeal and message that Truth conveyed in 1851, although it should be appreciated as Truth's "general" message and Gage's flair for projecting an image of Truth, combined.
Another discrepancy...Gage's version tells of Truth's 13 children who were sold into slavery, however, Truth only ever talked of 5 children and never was known to brag of having had more than 5 children.
There are other discrepancies, too, but knowing the historical background on Sojourner Truth doesn't detract away from the powerful penmanship of Gage or the fact that Gage's rendition of Truth's speech seem to be a sort of tribute to the strength and assertiveness of Truth as a human individual speaking out for women and other marginalized persons/groups in 1851.
Truth passed away on November 26, 1883 in Battle Creek Michigan after having spent her adult years as an active advocate for women's rights, abolition and religious tolerance.
Fellow Hubber, Sweetsusieg has created an awesome hub called Battle Creek Michigan - more than just cereal , after visiting Battle Creek and attempting to find Sojourner Truth's headstone/memorial spot not too long ago..