Slavery and the Life of Sojourner Truth

Last Updated: 31 May 2023
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In this day and age, a woman never wonders why she is able to vote, be elected to public office and hold the rights that she has today. She never realizes that the opportunities she has were once forbidden and furiously fought over in the 1800s. Furthermore, does one ever contemplate the harsh treatment of individuals in slavery taking place during this time? Living in modern-day America, it is difficult to imagine all this was occurring considering that now, everyone is free.

But everyone must realize that Freedom is not free. It took years to acquire womens rights and emancipation, among many other things. In order to provide liberty to every slave and woman deprived of her rights, people have had to step up and initiate action. Many people have died for what they believed in to make others understand how terribly they want the people of our generation to have what they did not. Among all of these people, one woman stands out like black print on white paper. This woman was not afraid to speak her mind and let her thoughts be known to everyone. She, along with others, led a society through a journey of truth. No other woman would fit this description except Sojourner Truth.

Born into a family of slaves, one would never even think about the better lives that they may have had otherwise. In 1787, there were already 700,000 slaves in the US and the number continued to increase. (Franklin 33) Sojourner Truth was born a slave somewhere around 1797 in New York and after trying to escape several times, was set free July 4th 1827. (Russell 79) Like many others, she realized there was a better life ahead of her without being in bondage.

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As early as 1815, there were organized efforts toward aiding fugitives in direct violation of state and federal laws. By 1817, Kentucky slaveholders were protesting over the escape of their slaves in appreciable numbers into Ohio and other free states. (Blockson 206) Once she was free, she changed her name from Isabella to Sojourner Truth after a sudden revelation by God. (Sojourner Truth 1) She believed that He wanted her to take this name, which meant the journey to truth, and evangelize His word. (History-Sojourner 2) She became the first black woman to crusade for abolition in 1828. (History-Sojourner 1)

John Dumont was the slaveholder of Sojourner Truth. He was a humane master, according to her, who praised her for being hard-working. (Sojourner Truth 2) The main reason that some slaveholders treated their slaves humanely was because they were valuable property. (Franklin 36) Most all slaveholders would whip their slaves to ensure maximum production and to instill fear in them. (Franklin 28) Prosperous farming families were clearly distinguished by the addition of hired men and women. (Biel 65)

American racial slavery held black and slave to be nearly synonymous terms. (Crowe 151) As described by the Oxford English Dictionary, the meaning of black before the 16th century included, Deeply stained with dirt, having dark or deadly purposes, malignant, wicked and liability to punishment, pertaining to or involving death, etc. (Crowe 214) In 1785, a group of New Yorkers led by John Jay and Alexander Hamilton arranged for the formal freeing of slaves. By 1792, there were anti- slavery societies in every state from Massachusetts to Virginia. (Franklin 33)

As early as 1810, the federal government excluded Negroes from the postal service. They thought, If Negroes mix with other people and acquire information, they might learn that a mans rights do not depend on his color. (Crowe 229) Thomas Jefferson owned and sold slaves, yet proclaimed that all men were equal with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Crowe 250) These were turbulent times and the Missouri Compromise of 1820 increased tensions between free and slave states. (South Western Company 344) After the Missouri Compromise, the Underground Railroad became more active and peaked from 1850-1860. (Compromise 1) Through the Underground Railroad, many slaves found their way to freedom. (Bernard 8) Harriet Tubman was a conductor for the Underground Railroad and was referred to as the Moses of her people.

(Bernard 48) The Mississippi and Ohio Rivers offered easy access for a slaves escape as well as the railroad system. (Blockson 201) It was not until the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 that the anti- slavery societies began to realize the danger of helping escaped slaves. This law required citizens to assist in the recovery of fugitive slaves and denied a fugitives right to a jury trial. (Compromise 2)

The novel, Uncle Toms Cabin, written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, was written in response to the harsh Fugitive Slave Law. (Stowe 3) Stowes novel was influential in opening peoples eyes to the true horrors of slavery. (Stowe 2) Former slaves flocked to the North in unprecedented numbers during the Civil War years, taking shelter with other refugees in segregated neighborhoods. (Biel 107) In New York City, where Truth was living after she escaped, it was filthy and unorganized. Street cleaning, garbage collection and sewage disposal were provided only to white citizens. (Biel 92) These poor conditions of the tenements bred smallpox, typhus and other illnesses. Twelve thousand cases of typhoid fever were reported in New York in one year. (Biel 93)

In the 1840s, there was a large religious revival that became known as the second Great Awakening. During this time, Sojourner spoke at gatherings about God and religion. (Bernard 43) At the places and times when Truth spoke, it was unsafe and unpopular. When pro-slave mobs broke up the meetings, Truth would fearlessly maintain her ground. (History-Sojourner 1). In 1852, in Salem, Ohio, Fredrick Douglass started raging and said that everyone should take up arms against their oppressors. Truth yelled out, Fredrick, is God gone? (Russell 413)

This was the same quote that was engraved on her tombstone. Not only did she speak at anti-slavery meetings but at the womens rights convention in 1851. (Bernard 5) In Akron, Ohio, Truth was the only black woman there, and when she got up to speak, she encountered hissing and hostility. (Who-Truth 1) She started off with religious hymns memorized out of the Bible, such as Early in the Morning.

Everyone became silent, and she continued by saying, I have plowed, reaped, husked, chopped and mowed, and can any man do more that that? Man, where is your part? (History-Sojourner 2) After this speech, she earned a reputation for oratorical power and a ready wit. (Russell 57) Since the framing of the Constitution, the essential political difference between the North and the South, was the legality of slavery. (Biel 12)

In the 1850s, Congress tacked amendments onto land and homestead bills excluding Negroes from their provisions, because granting them land would encourage and prolong their common residence in the confederacy. (Crowe 228) In the state of Illinois, in 1852, they taxed the colored people for every conceivable purpose. They taxed the Negros property to support schools for the education of white mans children, but the Negroes were not permitted to enjoy any of the benefits resulting from that taxation.

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Slavery and the Life of Sojourner Truth. (2023, May 25). Retrieved from

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