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Milestones In The Life Of Sojourner Truth
by Martin L. Ashley and Mary G. Butler

(Article first appeared in Heritage Battle Creek,
a Journal of Local History, Vol. 8  Fall, 1997)

c. 1797 Isabella born into slavery on the Hardenbergh estate, Swartekill, Ulster County, New York

c. 1806 - bought at auction for $100 by John Neely, near Kingston, NY

c. 1808 - bought for $105 by Martinus Schryver of Kingston, NY, staying there about 18 months

1810 - bought for L70 (c.$175) by John Dumont, New Paltz, NY, --she bore five children:

c. 1815 - Diana

c. 1822 - Peter

c. 1825 - Elizabeth

c. 1826 - Sophia

fifth child, died in infancy (?)

late 1826 - Isabella escapes to freedom with infant daughter, Sophia -- she had to leave the other children behind because they were not legally freed in the emancipation order until they had served as bound servants until their twenties

July 4, 1827 - New York state emancipates slaves born after 1799

1827-28 - employed by Isaac Van Wagener in Wagondale, Ulster County, NY -- wins landmark law suit to recover son Peter illegally sold into slavery in Alabama -- converts to Christianity

1829 - moves to New York City with her son Peter

1831 - works for Elijah Pierson, a Christian evangelist, as a domestic

1832 - meets Robert Matthews, known as the Prophet Matthias, when he visits Pierson's home and starts housekeeping for him

1833 - joins the Matthias Kingdom communal colony, established under the leadership of Prophet Matthias, in New York City and later in Sing Sing, NY

1834-35 - Kingdom dissolved after Prophet Matthias arrested and tried for death of Pierson, Isabella wins slander suit

1836-38 - Isabella back in New York City, trying to keep son Peter out of trouble

1839 - Peter ships out on whaling ship, Zone of Nantucket

1840-41 - Isabella receives a total of five letters from Peter

1842 - whaler Zone of Nantucket returns to port with no sign of Peter -- Isabella never hears from him again

1843 - at age 46, Isabella adopts the name Sojourner Truth, leaves New York and travels to Springfield, Mass. -- grandson James Caldwell born

1844-45 - joins the utopian Northampton Association in Northampton, Mass., where she meets the anti-slavery reformers Giles Stebbins, Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Parker Pillsbury, Frederick Douglass and the health reformer Sylvester Graham -- meets Olive Gilbert, an abolitionist- feminist who later wrote the Narrative of Sojourner Truth

1846 - Northampton Association disbanded

1847 - works as housekeeper for George Benson, brother-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison, in Northampton

1849 - visits former owner John Dumont just before he travels west

1850 - Benson's cotton mill fails and he leaves Northhampton -- Isabella Van Wagenen, "sometimes called Sojourner Truth," purchases home for $300 mortgage -- Narrative published by Olive Gilbert with preface by William Lloyd Garrison -- attends women's rights convention in Worcester, Mass.

1851 - leaves Northampton to join abolitionist George Thompson's speaker's bureau, traveling to Rochester, NY, where she stays with Underground Railroad leader, Amy Post -- in May, attends women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio, where she delivers the famous "Ain't I a Woman" speech, later recorded by Frances Gage

1851-53 - in Salem, Ohio, works with Anti-Slavery Bugle editor Marius Robinson -- travels state as anti-slavery speaker

1852 - in August, attends abolitionist meeting in Salem, Ohio, where she confronts Frederick Douglass, asking "Is God gone?"

1853 - in October, speaks at suffragist "mob convention" at Broadway Tabernacle, New York city -- visits Harriet Beecher Stowe in Andover, Mass.

1855 - second edition of Narrative published, with introduction by Harriet Beecher Stowe

1856 - comes to Battle Creek, Michigan, to address Friends of Human Progress convention, through efforts of Michigan Quaker, Henry Willis

1857 - sells Northampton property and buys house and lot in Harmonia, six miles west of Battle Creek, Michigan

1858 - visits Ohio, Indiana -- at October meeting in Silver Lake, Indiana, accused of being a man in disguise, bares her breast to the audience to refute claim

1859 - spends several months in Detroit, Michigan

1860 - household, as listed in Calhoun County census, includes daughter Elizabeth Banks, age 35, grandsons Sammy Banks, age 8 and James "Colvin" (Caldwell), age 16

1862 - London World Exhibition awards prize to William Story's statue, Libyan Sibyl, inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe's romanticized description of Sojourner

1863 - ill for "many weeks," stays with the Merritt family in Battle Creek -- her appeal for funds appears in the Anti- Slavery Standard and results in a donations from many sources -- April issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine publishes Harriet Beecher Stowe's article, "The Libyan Sibyl" -- grandson James Caldwell enlists in the 54th Regiment, Mass. Volunteers (the Glory regiment) -- in November, takes Thanksgiving dinner supplies, donated by Battle Creek citizens, to the colored soldiers stationed at Camp Ward in Detroit

1864 - in June, Sojourner and thirteen-year-old grandson Sammy Banks, leave Battle Creek for New York and New Jersey, arrive in Washington, DC in the fall -- in October, visits President Abraham Lincoln at the White House -- employed by National Freedman's Relief Association

1865 - assigned to work at Freedman's Hospital in Washington -- rides the Washington, DC, streetcars to force their desegregation -- grandson James paroled from Confederate prison and mustered out of the army

1867 - moves from Harmonia into Battle Creek, converting Merritt "barn" on College Street into her house travels to Rochester, New York, and south to resettle freedmen -- visits suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton

1868 - visits Detroit, travels to western New York state where she tells Amy Post she has quit smoking

1869 - in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, various towns in New Jersey

1870 - College Street household, as listed in the Calhoun County census, includes daughter Elizabeth and her husband William Boyd, eight-year-old grandson William Boyd, nineteen-year-old grandson Sammy Banks -- daughter Diana Corbin and her husband Jacob and nine-year-old grandson Frank live on South Street, near Oak Hill Cemetery -- traveling all year, to New Jersey, New York, New England, speaking against alcohol, tobacco and fashionable dress, delivers her first lecture mentioning petition to give freedmen free land in the west -- in Washington, DC, meets President Grant in the White House -- appears in the US Senate chamber, where Senators sign her Book of Life

1871 - continues to travel around New England and New York -- Frederick Douglass signs her Book of Life -- receives the deed to her College Street house from William Merritt -- in June, Nanette Gardner of Detroit records in the Book of Life that she was the first woman to vote in a Michigan state election -- in September, leaves for Kansas with grandson Sammy Banks

1872 - travels around Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan -- returns to Battle Creek to celebrate 33rd anniversary of "Emancipation Day" in British West Indies with picnic and speeches -- attempts to vote for Grant, refused at the polling place in Battle Creek

1873 - travels around Michigan

1874 - in spring, leaves for Washington, DC with grandson -- when Sammy falls ill, they are forced to return to Battle Creek -- during winter, Sojourner ill with ulcer on leg

1875 - following operation, Sammy Banks dies and is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery -- to cover the medical costs, she solicits contributions from her friends around the country -- third edition of the Narrative, including the Book of Life, published by Frances Titus of Battle Creek

1876 - improved in health after being treated by "Dr. Orville Guiteau, veterinarian," leaves for Chicago, intending to visit Philadelphia Centennial with Frances Titus -- again forced to return home because of illness

1877 - Frances Titus returns home after traveling with Sojourner around Michigan

1878-79 - Sojourner and Titus travel through New York and other eastern states for six months during the fall and winter -- visit Kansas and Wisconsin during the summer, to campaign for free land for former slaves

1880 - 82 - makes limited appearances around Michigan, speaking for temperance and against capital punishment

1883 - in July, ill with ulcers on her legs, treated by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, who is said to have grafted some of his own skin onto Sojourner's leg -- November 26, 1883 -- Sojourner Truth dies at her College Street home in Battle Creek, Michigan -- funeral two days later, followed by burial in Oak Hill Cemetery next to her grandson

This chronology of the major events in the life of Sojourner Truth is based on notes compiled by local historian Berenice Lowe. Lowe spent many years tracking down the details of the career of Battle Creek's most famous citizen.

Her papers are deposited in the archives of the Historical Society of Battle Creek. Additional information is taken from the Martich Black History Collection, Local History Collection, Willard Public Library, Battle Creek, MI. Also Sojourner Truth, Slave, Prophet, Legend by Carleton Mabee (New York, N. Y. University Press, 1993) and Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter (New York, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1996).

 

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