The Sojourner At Home
During the twenty-six years that she lived in Harmonia and Battle Creek, Sojourner Truth continued to travel around the nation delivering her message. In fact, she was gone from the city for many months at a time. But she continued to regard the city as her home and Battle Creek citizens were proud of their "distinguished townswoman." 1
Truth was a local tourist attraction and notable visitors were taken to meet her. During an 1878 visit, a Coldwater attorney remembered that the mayor "took me out driving, to see the sights of the town, and asked me if I would like to meet Sojourner Truth. Naturally I wanted to call on her, as she was then known all over the country, looked upon as a most remarkable woman." 2
However, Truth was more than a local icon -- she was a warm and loving person who enjoyed her circle of friends. An 1879 newspaper described, "this wonderful old traveler, ... [who] may be seen taking pleasure strolls along many of our beautiful streets, accompanied only by her grandson, these pleasant moonlight evenings, and ever ready to chat with old friends." 3
Sojourner was always a favorite with children. Mrs. Harriet Tucker, the child of escaped slaves, remembers that:
Truth was a frequent visitor at the Merritt homestead. Richard Merritt recounted that, "Many times I have been rocked to sleep by Sojourner while she sang quaint Negro lullabies, as were the other children of the family." 5 Minnie Merritt Fay's earliest memory of Truth was of:
According to William Merritt, Sojourner was unpredictable. "When she made her trips she always declared that she had received a call, and none knew when she would be leaving or returning. She would just start suddenly away with few belongings and would reappear as unexpectedly." 7 As a child, Minnie remembered:
In her daily life, Sojourner frequently acted on impulse, ever ready to seize the moment to enjoy a small pleasure. Mrs. Ann J. Cook remembered the day she was married in the parsonage of the Methodist Church. As the wedding party was entering the building, they met Truth on her way out.
In the fall of 1867 she bought the Merritt "barn" on College Street and set about fixing up a couple of rooms to live in that winter. Sojourner sent a letter to her abolitionist friend Amy Post, telling her that, "I have been at work at my cellar myself, carrying the dirt out. It was so heavy I could not shovel it out so I would carry it out in my apron." 10 Sojourner's "scribe" Frances Titus wrote to Eliza Leggett in Detroit, appealing for funds to help complete work on the house:
Even when her house was finally fixed up, it was not spacious or elaborate. When the abolitionist Parker Pillsbury visited Battle Creek in 1875, he described it as "a miserable little house, of two rooms, -- the one contains her cot also...the cook stove which, with a chair or two, took up all the space." 12 She could often be seen, "smoking a clay pipe usually -- in front of her dwelling, on a little platform (about five feet square) every evening in the summer at close of day." 13
Though she was deeply respected by the adults in town, and a beloved friend to many children, Sojourner was not immune from the actions of local pranksters. In 1881 a blanket was stolen from her yard. After a notice was placed in the newspaper, "the blanket was found in a hammock in a neighbors' yard, placed there by the thief, no doubt, who was afraid to go to Sojourner's house." 14
One winter visitor to "this famous citizen of our town" found her:
No local gathering of any consequence was complete without a speech from Sojourner. She received an enthusiastic reception whenever she appeared, at Emancipation Day picnics, the Hamblin Opera House or the parlor of the Sanitarium. The local newspaper described her visit to a county fair:
In March 1880, she was asked to address the local temperance Red Ribbon Club, where she gave a "plain, practical common-sense talk, full of sharp hits, suggestive points well applied and witty repartee." The Club reported that, "at no previous meeting, however talented the speaker, has there assembled so large an audience or been so large a number of new names added to the [temperance] pledge." 17
A few days before the lecture, her temperance friends had planned a special evening for Sojourner:
Truly, Sojourner Truth herself was "not for a day, but [her] memory will exist through all eternity," both as a beloved citizen of Battle Creek and as a revered citizen of the nation.
1. Battle Creek Journal, August 8, 1877. 2. Battle Creek Enquirer, "Sojourner Truth Expected to Live for Another Century to Finish Her Work," one of the "At the Sign of 'I Remember' " series, February 27, 1916. 3. Battle Creek Moon Journal, "50 Years Ago Today, July 3, 1879," July 3, 1929. 4. Battle Creek Enquirer, "Her Parents Fled from Bondage in Old Kentucky before Days of Civil War," one of the "At the Sign of 'I Remember' " series, October 15, 1916. 5. Battle Creek Enquirer, "Pioneer Resident of City Recalls Sojourner Truth's Old Lullabies," 1929. 6. "Sojourner Truth," a reminiscence by Minnie Merritt Fay, June 3, 1929. 7. "Pioneer Resident." 8. Minnie Merritt Fay reminiscence. 9. Unidentified Battle Creek newspaper, June 21, 1929, Martich Black History Collection, Local History Collection, Willard Public Library, Battle Creek, MI. 10. Letter to Amy Post, November 4, 1867, from the archives of the Sojourner Truth Library, State University of New York, College at New Paltz, New Paltz, New York, from the notes of Berenice Lowe in the archives of the Historical Society of Battle Creek. 11. Letter to Eliza Leggett, November 13, 1867, from the archives of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, from the notes of Berenice Lowe in the archives of the Historical Society of Battle Creek. 12. Mabee, Carleton, Sojourner Truth, Slave, Prophet, Legend, New York, New York University Press, 1993, p. 215. 13. Letter from Lewis Anderson to Berenice Lowe, August 6, 1955, archives of the Historical Society of Battle Creek. 14. Battle Creek Nightly Moon, November 14, 1881. 15. Unidentified Battle Creek newspaper, "Sojourner Truth, A Pleasant Hour at the Fireside of this Interesting Centenarian," undated, vol. xxxi, #1575, (c. 1882-83). Martich Black History Collection. 16. Battle Creek Nightly Moon, November 17, 1881. 17. Battle Creek Daily Journal, "Sojourner Truth, Her Lecture Before the Red Ribbon Club Sunday, March 7th, 1880, Great Enthusiasm, Over 40 Signatures to the Pledge." March 8, 1880. 18. unidentified Battle Creek newspaper, "Sojourner Truth, She was Surprised by a Large Party of Her Friends, Last Evening," March 3, 1880. Martich Black History Collection.