Celebrating Black History Month

Sister Callista Robinson

Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth) was born on November 26, 1797, in Swartekill, Ulster County, N.Y. Her father, James Baumfree, was an African captured from the Gold Coast in Ghana and her mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of enslaved Africans from the Coast of Guinea. Slave traders sold her parents to Colonel Hardenbergh, who was from Swartekill, N.Y.


In 1806, as a nine-year-old child, Isabella was sold at an auction to John Neely. From 1806-1810, she was sold to four different owners in New York state. Her fourth owner was John Dumont of West Park, N.Y. She married a slave named Thomas and later had five children.


375035In 1799, the state of New York began to legislate the abolition of slavery, although the process of emancipating New York slaves was not complete until July 4, 1827. John Dumont had promised to grant Isabella her freedom a year before the state emancipation “If she would do well and be faithful.” He changed his mind, claiming that a hand injury had made her less productive.


In 1826, she escaped, with her infant daughter, Sophia. She had to leave her other children behind because they were not legally freed in the emancipation order until they had served as bound servants into their twenties. She found her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, who gave them shelter. Isaac offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year (until the state’s emancipation took effect), which John Dumont accepted for $20. She lived there until New York State Emancipation Act was approved a year later.


Isabella learned that her five-year-old son had been sold illegally by John Dumont to an owner in Alabama. With the help of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, she took the issue to court and, after months of legal proceedings, got back her son who had been abused by his new owner. She became one of the first black women to go to court against a white man and win the case.


On June 1, 1843, Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She became a Methodist and began to travel and preach about the abolition of slavery. In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in North Hampton, Mass. This organization was founded by abolitionists and supported women’s rights, religious tolerance as well as pacifism.


She spent the rest of her life giving speeches on freedom for slaves and women’s rights. She died at her home in Battle Creek, Mich., on November 26, 1883, at the age of 86.





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The Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota, is a community of Catholic women religious who follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ, walking in the footsteps of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi. We believe that the living of a poor, simple and prayerful community life is a ministry of presence and witness. Our doors are open to the public to celebrate Mass in Sacred Heart Chapel and to benefit from the St. Francis Music Center and St. Francis Health & Recreation Center. We welcome those who wish to join us as sisters, associates, volunteers, transfer sisters, friends and donors.


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