On this day in 1883, Sojourner Truth died.
Sojourner Truth was an African American evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist and author who was born into slavery before escaping to freedom in 1826.
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797 to enslaved parents James and Elizabeth Baumfree, in Ulster County, New York. Around age nine, she was sold at an auction to John Neely for $100, along with a flock of sheep.
Neely was a cruel and violent master who beat the young girl regularly. She was sold two more times by age 13 and ultimately ended up at the West Park, New York, home of John Dumont and his second wife Elizabeth.
Around age 18, Isabella fell in love with an enslaved man named Robert from a nearby farm. But the couple was not allowed to marry since they had separate owners. Instead, Isabella was forced to marry another enslaved man owned by Dumont named Thomas. She eventually bore five children: James, Diana, Peter, Elizabeth and Sophia.
After gaining her freedom, Truth preached about abolitionism and equal rights for all. She became known for a speech with the famous refrain, “Ain’t I a Woman?” that she was said to have delivered at a women’s convention in Ohio in 1851, although accounts of that speech (and whether Truth ever used that refrain) have since been challenged by historians. Truth continued her crusade throughout her adult life, earning an audience with President Abraham Lincoln and becoming one of the world’s best-known human rights crusaders.