Study Guide

Sojourner Truth in Ain't I a Woman?

By Sojourner Truth, a.k.a. Isabella Baumfree

Sojourner Truth

These Are the Days of Her Life

An old Greek guy once said that the most important part is the beginning…so that's where we're going to start.

Isabella or Belle Baumfree, the woman later known as Sojourner Truth, was born in New York to slaves. Yes, New York had slaves. It wasn't just the rebel South and tobacco plantations. She was sold away from her parents at nine years old, for a flock of sheep valued at $100. (Source)

ICYMI: A flock of sheep.

Not only did Belle suffer being treated as a possession worth the same amount as sheep, seven years later, her boyfriend was beaten and likely died…because their relationship wasn't allowed by his owner since Belle's owner would own any of their children. Things continued from bad to worse; she was forced to marry one of her owner's older slaves and had at least four children with him.

Throughout Belle's early life, New York State was on the leading edge of abolition of slavery. Even then, it took a whopping twenty-eight years to actually accomplish anything.

And when New York finally got its act together in 1827, it emancipated adult slaves…but stated that children born to slaves had to serve up to twenty-seven years of indentured servitude to their former enslavers. (The New York legislature was, shockingly, made up and influenced by the wealthiest, slave-owning citizens.) (Source)

Belle's fourth and final owner had promised her freedom before the emancipation act took place, but then, in a twist you totally didn't see coming, changed his mind because she apparently hadn't worked hard enough in that final year. By the time she was twenty-nine in 1826, Belle had had enough. She stayed long enough to spin a hundred pounds of wool, and then split with her infant daughter.

Fightin' the Man

Not content with her own freedom or to wait for her children to become adults in slavery—oops, sorry, indentured servitude—Belle took on the white male-dominated judicial system. She fought a legal battle to have her five-year-old son returned from being illegally sold to an abusive owner in Alabama.

And she won. A female former slave, aided by Quakers, managed to play the game against huge odds and win.

David and Goliath has nothing on the story of Sojourner Truth.

Truth, Justice, and Sojourner's Way

Having gained religion from the couple who sheltered her after her escape, Belle became renowned as a preacher. She had ups and downs, experiencing both equality and criminal charges (as well as—no joke—a cult) before changing her name in 1843 and becoming a penniless wandering preacher. She came in contact with big name abolitionists like Frederick Douglass through the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a group that believed in equal rights for women, pacifism, abolition.

Having had more life experience than she probably would have asked for, Truth somehow managed to keep busy. From 1850 onward, she dictated her memoirs, began speaking at activist meetings (this would be where "Ain't I a Woman?" comes in), petitioned for Union enlistment of Black troops during the Civil War, crusaded for land for former slaves after the war ended, and generally continued to work for reform and equal rights as she always had until her death on November 26, 1883.

Yeah. If you can think of a more inspiring and kick-butt life story, let us know. But we won't be waiting for your email with bated breath, because it's pretty much impossible to come up with a biography that is more jaw-droppingly impressive than Sojourner Truth's.

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