Sojourner Truth, originally Isabella Baumfree, was born into slavery in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, around 1797. Her parents were slaves owned by Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh, a prosperous farmer of Dutch descent. Her father, James, a tall man said to be “straight as a tree” (for which he received the Dutch surname of “Baumfree”), was of African and possibly American Indian descent. Her mother, Betsey, also known as “Mau Mau Bett,” was of African lineage; through family and biblical stories, she instilled in Isabella and her ten siblings the value of family and spirituality. She assured Isabella she could always talk to God when there was no one else to turn to. Formal education was not available, but Isabella developed a self-reliance and strength in her young years that would preserve her through severe testing and make her work in social reform possible. Her childhood also provided the background from which the vivid and memorable anecdotes used in her lectures would later spring.
Isabella herself was sold at the age of nine. Although she was a diligent worker, she was beaten for her inability to communicate with her owners, the Neelys (Isabella spoke a Dutch dialect). Next, she was sold to the Schryvers, who owned a tavern. During her time with the Schryvers, her mother died, and her father soon followed. Eventually, Isabella was sold to the Dumonts, where she worked part-time as a field hand and helped in the kitchen. At this time, Isabella’s greatest wish was to please; sometimes, she would stay up half the night working to gain favor with her master.
When grown, Isabella fell in love with Robert, a slave from a neighboring farm, but they were forbidden to marry because Robert’s master disapproved of the match. After the couple continued to met secretly, Robert was severely beaten and made to marry...
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