Isabelle was born a slave in Ulster County, New York. There are many discrepancies in the year that she was born, but it was commonly believed to be somewhere around 1797. As a baby, she was given the name Isabelle Hardenbergh. Her last name came from her owner, Colonel Hardenbergh. At the age of three, Colonel Hardenbergh died, leaving Isabelle and her parents as the property of his son Charles.
They lived in deplorable conditions there, sharing a common living area with twelve other slaves. After Charles’ death in 1808, Isabelle and her younger brother were auctioned off. Throughout her years in slavery, Isabelle had many owners, some harsh and some kind. Who they were is inconsequential; what is important to who Isabelle became through her years of bondage. She grew to become a strong woman, both mentally and physically. Through her beatings, she learned determination.
Through the loss of her parents, she suffered great heartbreak, but learned to place that aside when it came time to work. Her experiences as a slave helped her to become a strong woman with the combination of wit, wisdom, wild enthusiasm, and flint-like common sense (video).Isabelle has been described as a “woman of remarkable intelligence despite her illiteracy”. She stood a tall 5’11”, and had a masculine, yet beautifully powerful voice. With both her body and mind, she represented enslaved women everywhere. In our society’s remembrance of her, she is seen as a natural, uncomplicated presence in our national life. Rather than just another person in history, she is a symbol (Painter, 3-4).
Year after year, for thirty years, she spoke publicly, making herself a strong, influential force in several American reform movements. Throughout her missions, her aim became increasingly secular, and from the late 1840’s through the late 1870’s, she traveled America denouncing slavery and slavers, advocating freedom, women’s rights, woman suffrage, and temperance (Painter, 4).Harriet Beecher Stowe reconstructed conversations with her colleagues and Isabelle where Isabelle tells them of when she found Jesus. Isabelle was with her mother, and her mother was crying over her lost children who were sold to other masters. Her mother, referred to by some as Ma-Ma Betts, explained to Isabelle that one day she too would be sold away from her mother, and that if she ever needed help, to ask God.
Isabelle asked her mother who God is, and her mother said to her, “Why, chile, you jes’ look up dar! (referring to the stars) It’s Him that made all dem!” (Stowe). Isabelle didn’t pay much attention to God at that point in her life. Later though, when she was sold away from her mother to a harsh master, she began to pray to God. She asked for his help to escape from her master, and she claims that the Lord told her to get up two or three hours before daylight and start walking.
She did as she was told, and began to ask the Lord where she was going. Isabelle claimed that He brought her to a house, late at night, to a family of Quakers (Stowe). Different books have different accounts of this experience.
Jacqueline Barnard extends on this occurrence, stating that Isabelle’s master, Dumont, found Isabelle here, and was ready to take her back. The Quaker’s, seeing this, bought Isabelle and her daughter from Dumont. Isabelle, while turning toward her new owner and referring to him as master, was stopped in mid-sentence. This man, Isaac Van Wagenen held up his hand and stated, “There is but one Master here. He who is thy Master is my Master” (Bernard, 61). Isabelle stayed with the Van Wagenen’s for some time, and quite quickly forgot all about God. One day, as Isabelle was leaving the house, she met God.
She said that she turned right back around and had to sit down. She claimed that she felt as if she were going to burn up, “I could feel it burnin’, burnin’, burnin’ all around me, an’ goin’ through me; an’ I saw I was so wicked” (Stowe). She prayed for help, and she believed that something came between her and God, something of an umbrella, somebody, “somebody that stood between me an’ God; an’ it felt cool, like a shade” She asked who it was, and she received an answer, “This Is Jesus!” (Stowe). She claims that she felt love as she had never felt it before, love to all creatures, “even de white folks.” Isabelle wanted to learn more about God. She began by asking ministers wherever she could find them and also asking any adult who would sit down and read to her the bible. She grew tired of this very quickly.
She wished to hear the scriptures without comment, but the adults would invariably explain them. As a result, Isabelle went to children. She could ask them to re-read passages as often as she wished, and they would not comment.
This enabled her to understand for herself the bible, and not be predisposed to another’s disposition. She believed it was important to develop her own understanding of the bible (Washington, 87).It did not take long before Isabelle would begin to search for congregations to join. This was a hard task for her. She refused to sit in church with segregated prayer rooms, and therefore was left little option but to join a black church known as the Zion African Church. This church encouraged it’s congregation to testify about their religious feelings, and Isabelle soon became well known for her dynamic expressions of her faith (Krass, 48). I believe that this experience in her life gave her the foundation she would need later in life as she began to minister around the country.
Isabelle soon grew tired of the church, she felt that they were not doing anything to relieve that pain and suffering of the poor in the area. This is when she began to go out and find those who needed her wisdom. She embraced a new religion in America, Spiritualism, brought to her by Isaac and Amy Post. She first appreciated them more for their racial tolerance than their spiritualistic beliefs. Spiritualism soon became comfortable to Isabelle, for the Holy Spirit was a prominent figure in her religion. It is an optimistic and tolerant faith of individualism and autonomy (Painter, 145).Isabelle wished to start a new life.
She realized that through her experiences “as a slave, a mother, and devout Christian”, as Peter Krass put it, she had developed a perspective on human rights and spiritual well-being that she felt she needed to share with others. In her own mind, she heard the powerful voice of God telling her that she had a mission to help the needy and the oppressed (Krass, 57).As Isabelle grew closer to God, she began to travel more, “I must be about my Father’s business”, she claimed. As “voices” had enlightened her in 1843, she became “an instrument of God” and began a new life as a traveling preacher (Washington XV).
Isabelle soon recognized that the name she had been given as a slave was inappropriate for someone starting out a new life as God’s pilgrim. She wanted a free woman’s name. She asked God for guidance, and chose the name Sojourner, coming from the word sojourn, meaning to travel. Her intent was to “travel up and down the land, showing the people their sins, and being a sign unto them.” (Krass, 59). She also chose the last name Truth.
She proclaimed her mission would be to “sojourn” the land and speak God’s “truth.” (Washington XV). Henceforth, Isabelle no longer existed, but was reborn as Sojourner Truth.Sojourner Truth traveled all around the country delivering God’s word. As Harriet Beecher Stowe recollects, Truth stated:”I journeys round to camp-meetins, an’ wherever folks is, an’ I sets up my banner, an’ then I sings, an’ then folks always comes up round me, an’ then I preaches to ’em.
I tells ’em about Jesus, an’ I tells ’em about the sins of this people. A great many always comes to hear me; an’ they’re right good to me, too, an’ say they want to hear me agin.”Truth believed that God had made her a sign unto the nation, that her duty was to testify to all who listened of the sins against her people (Stowe).
During her journeys, Truth had heard lecturers who advocated that women be given equal rights as men. It was then that Truth decided to join their ranks in their battle for freedom. She had long before recognized the similarities in the conditions of women and slaves in the United States (Krass, 66-67). In 1851, Sojourner Truth attended a woman’s rights convention at Akron Church, in Akron, Ohio. Upon the first sight of Truth, the women at the convention began to stir.
They turned to Francis Gage, pleading that she not allow Truth to speak. They feared that in allowing Truth to speak, abolitionism would be mixed with their cause, and that it would lead them to be denounced (Bernard, 164). On the second night of the convention, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Universalistic ministers came to hear and to discuss the resolutions presented. One man commented on the superior intellect of man, another on the fact that Christ was man, stating that if God wanted man and woman to be equal, he would have given some token of this wish at that time.
And yet another man remarked on that fact that it was a woman, not a man, who sinned by accepting the apple from the servant (Bernard, 165).From these statements, most women cowered in their pews, for there were few women at that time that dared to speak in meetings. While some cowered, others grew angry, and Mrs. Frances Gage feared that the entire convention would break into “tears and hysterics” (Bernard, 165).
It was then that Sojourner Truth slowly rose to her feet. Although there were many women there who wished her not to speak, she began her famous, extemporaneous speech, Ar’nt I a Woman. She began her speech by reiterating the question, “Ar’nt I a woman?” while proclaiming that she could do any work that a man could do. She asked what intellect had to do with the rights of blacks or women. “If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?” she asked. She moved on to the next man who stated that women couldn’t have the same rights as men because Christ was a man, and she said to him, “Where did your Christ come from?” Both from God and from a woman was Truth’s reply, “Man had nothing to do with him.
” Finally, she turned to the women and stated, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right-side-up again.” (Bernard, 166-167).This became one of Sojourner Truth’s most famous speeches, although it was never accurately recorded.
It was reconstructed as best as it could be, though you can see the small discrepancies in her speech through different sources. Word easily spread that she was a dramatic and inspirational speaker, leaving audiences filled with emotion. “The simplicity of her language and the sincerity of her message, combined with the courage of her convictions, made Sojourner a sought-after speaker” (McKissack, 85). “Truth soon became known for her simple but moving antislavery speeches and her witty, biting attacks on the hypocrisy of people who owned slaves and yet professed to be Christians” (Krass, 72).This did not cure all the hardships in Truth’s life. Western states were particularly vicious toward abolitionists, and on one occasion, Sojourner was told that the building that she was to speak in would be burned if she attempted to give her address.
“Then I will speak to the ashes,” she replied. In another instance, she was mauled so badly in an attack, that she had to walk the rest of her life with a cane. Yet, these such instances did not sway Sojourner Truth. She believed that God would protect her, and that her message “warranted the danger involved in its deliverance” (Washington, XI).There are many accomplishments that Truth had in her lifetime.
I have tried, to the best of my abilities, to restrict this paper to a religious significance, and I must end here. Sojourner Truth died on November 26, 1883. She had been mortally ill for two months in the late fall, and heroic yet unsuccessful attempts were made to cure the ulcers on her legs. “By late November 1883, she was wasted and weak, too emaciated to wear her false teeth” (Painter, 254).
She had ministered to all that would listen for the past 40 years. In return for His guidance, Truth became His faithful servant, continually ignoring her own hardships (Krass, 105). It is believed that her last words were: “Be a follower of the Lord Jesus” (Painter, 254).
Devoting her entire life to the Lord’s ministry, she traveled endlessly, leaving an inspiring legacy.Bibliography:WORKS CITED1. Bernard, Jacqueline. Journey Toward Freedom: The Story of Sojourner Truth. New York: W.
W. Norton ; Company. 1967.2. Krass, Peter. Sojourner Truth: Antislavery Activist. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.
1988.3. McKissack, P.
C. ; McKissack F. Sojourner Truth Ain’t I a Woman. New York: Scholastic Inc.
1970.4. Painter, Nell Irvin. Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol. New York: W.W. Norton& Company.
1996.5. Stowe, Harriet Beecher. “Sojourner Truth, the Libyan Sibyl.
” Atlantic Montly. April 1863: p 473.6. video recording. The Life of Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman. Illinois: LearningCorporation of America. 1970.
7. Washington, Margaret. Narrative of Sojourner Truth. New York: Random House, Inc.