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Sojourner Truth - Ain't I a Woman?

Updated on April 13, 2014

Isabella Baumfree a.k.a. Sojourner Truth

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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.. 


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    • profile image

      Mike Wilkins 

      3 years ago

      Its me again Mythbuster, After almost a year of hard work on top of the previous nine years of research and writing I am now very happy to call back on you. Eleven months ago you said that you would look for the book which I mentioned. Mythbuster the final edits in text and art work are finished.

      Mythbuster you may find this interesting.

      Sojournertruth & Matthias

      The name Sojournertruth has become established with in the hearts and minds of modern humanity, she is a symbol of freedom, justice, strength and endurance. The established Icon of Sojournertruth helps humanity understand the importance of communication and honesty. The name Sojournertruth is a pseudonym adopted after the point of departure from New York in 1843.

      Within the book ‘Clash Of The Prophets, The Beginning’ we read ‘In time and between the years of 1843 and 1850 the evidence, both direct and indirect, confirms the evolution of Isabella's name from "SOJOURNER" into "SOJOURNER TRUTH." The name of "Sojourner truth" was penned by Mr Oliver Gilbert in 1850. When Gilbert penned this name he placed a space between the "SOJOURNER" and the "Truth." In time the name once again evolved and the accepted name for Isabella is now established within the hearts and minds of humanity as "SOJOURNERTRUTH." The name of "SOJOURNERTRUTH" is recognised as a symbol of justice and freedom for all, regardless of nationality, gender, or religion!'

      The connections between Sojournertruth and Prophet Matthias are vitally important. Sojournertruth introduced Matthias into the Pierson Christian community. Within this community Matthias was able to infiltrate some of the most influential families within New York society. As Matthias expanded his dictatorial control, Sojournertruth witnessed both his rise to power and his fall from grace and favour into the cells at Sing-Sing prison. She was the first to join with Matthias and the last to leave him.

      The true story of the connections between Sojournertruth and Matthias while together in New York should never be forgotten! Matthias called himself "the Spirit of truth."

      Isabella Van Wagener called herself "Sojournertruth"

      After reflection upon the activities within New York Isabella Van Wagener (Sojournertruth) concluded: 'that she had been taking part in a great drama, which was, in itself, but one great system of robbery and wrong.'

      The heart breaking, shocking emotional full true story of Sojournertruth and Matthias can be experienced within "Clash of the Prophets".

      Clash of the Prophets is a true story which gives you the opportunity to experience the emotions of love and lust as you glimpse into the corruption of pure bodies, minds and spirits.

      The manuscript is perfect for readers who enjoy a true story. Additionally college and university students will find facts presented in a readable enjoyable manner, with all of the required historical references fully presented. The book is a foundation for study, debate and end of term essays involving Sojournertruth and her New York years with Prophet Matthias.

      If you like the concept topic: which is a roller-coaster ride of emotions and facts, please will you accept my invitation to find out more with your FREE downloadable informed choices student guide.

      Also you can find more information Free of charge at:

      If you want to know even more then you are personally invited to my main web site at:

      Mythbuster You are respected within the blogging web community. You have real talent at expressing yourself. Its my pleasure to once again communicate with you.

      Very best regards.

      Mike Wilkins

      (Author Clash Of The Prophets The Beginning.)

    • Sojurnertruth NYC profile image

      Michael Wilkins 

      4 years ago

      Hi again Mythbuster.

      If you e-mail

      They will send you the information which may be of interest to you.

      The New York years of Sojournertruth are interesting and challenging as she endured many trial and tribulations. Its a real melodrama exploring the full story. Its a must read for all Sojournertruth fans.

      Keep up the good work mythbuster, by the way your web name is a good one.

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Thanks for the extra information, Mike! I will look for the book you've mentioned.

    • Sojurnertruth NYC profile image

      Michael Wilkins 

      4 years ago

      Hi mythbuster and Hub Palls.

      You may be interested in knowing that Sojurnertruth had a most challenging time in and around New York City before she called herself by the name which we all know her by today.

      The New York Years and her connections with Prophet Matthias resulted in the birth of Sojournertruth. Not many seam to know this! For interesting information read the e-book Clash of the Prophets their Lost Years Sojournertruth / Matthias / Joseph Smith.

      Hope that this helps in some way.


    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hi Swinter12,

      I'm glad you enjoyed the article on Baumfree/Sojourner Truth - Ain't I a Woman. It is a really powerful collection of words from a truly remarkable and resilient woman.

    • Swinter12 profile image


      5 years ago from Earth

      The first time I read Ain´t I a Woman? my hairs stood on end. Today, as I read it again, they once again, stood.

      This is a beautiful and informative piece about the strong woman behind Ain´t I a Woman?

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hi freecampingaussie! Thanks for stopping by, reading and commenting. Roots is such a great show! Have you ever read the book.... I just put that on my "next to read" list now that you have mentioned the show! I have seen the film version (actually done as a mini-series with commentary - very informative). I think the reading by Alice Walker in the vid is very powerful. Glad you seemed to enjoy the hub!

    • freecampingaussie profile image


      6 years ago from Southern Spain

      Awesome hub, I still cry at the thought of their children being taken away and sold to other people . We watched Roots when I was younger was so sad and cruel.

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Found the error - figures of speech that I got stuck in oops. Fixed now :)

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hi Mazzy Bolero. Yeah... that can only be a typing error... lookin' for it now! Thanks for pointing it out!

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image

      Mazzy Bolero 

      6 years ago from the U.K.

      A very interesting story, mythbuster. I had never heard of this woman before. Why would she turn against abolition when she became a Methodist? Could that be just a typing error? I'm puzzled by that.

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Yes, omarly, Sojourner Truth is a well known personality in certain areas.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      she is a very famous person

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hey Sweetsusieg, I think the pics will enhance your hub. I went over to read your hub and liked it a lot, so I linked to you already. Thanks for thinking of me and saving the pics, but they'll be great and maybe more appropriate on your Battle Creek hub.

    • Sweetsusieg profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      I got those pictures as I said I would, have written an article (for entering this weeks contest) linked to your name... If you would like them, give me a holler and I will send them on their way! I think you will like them, I did not include them in my Hub tho, saved them for you if you wish.

    • mythbuster profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      haha, gahoglund... funny, "[...] a generation that thinks nothing significant happened before the 1960's." This is a great comment. I love it.

    • Sweetsusieg profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      Just to give you a tidbit... The children of the Battle Creek schools honor her every year, though there are many good things and people to come from this small town, she remains the hero, held in the highest esteem.

      I have visited her grave site and am planning on getting a photo of it along with a photo of her statue that is proudly displayed at the entrance of the town. Should you wish it, I have no problem sending it to you, just let me know via e-mail if you decide to add it to this lovely Hub. I used to live in Battle Creek, and yet am not too far away.

      Beautiful Hub and inspirational to all who have suffered some form of indignity, one way or another.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Indeed she is an inspiration. There were many early leaders such as this that seem to be overlooked. I think we have had a generation that thinks nothing significant happened before the 1960's.

    • prey profile image


      8 years ago from places you should hope we never meet

      Myth, you never cease to amaze me, and the quality of work you continue to put out is a clear demonstation of the amount of work you put inyto each one.

      Always something to be learnt, always something thought provoking, always brilliantly written, and always has me thinking 'wait a sec, well, I never thought of it that way.

      Thanks tons my friend, awesome hub


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