Author: Olive Gilbert
Sojourner Truth (1795-1883) was originally a Dutch-speaking slave in Hurley, New York (Ulster County) who became one of the nineteenth century's most eloquent voices for the causes of anti-slavery and women's rights. This work includes several important texts about her life, beginning with a dictated autobiography. In it, she tells of her early life in slavery and how she did not officially achieve freedom until 1827, under New York State's Anti- Slavery Act. The children she bore as a slave were taken from her, and it was her successful efforts to reclaim her son, Peter, who had been illegally sold out of state, that brought her into contact with anti-slavery advocates. Moving to New York City, she became involved in Evangelical religious and moral reform activities and began preaching at camp-meetings around the city. By 1832, she had come under the influence of the self-styled utopian prophet, Matthias, whom she helped to support with her savings and labor. In 1843, after Matthias's experimental community had failed, Truth left New York and traveled through Long Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, singing and speaking out about public and religious issues. She lived for a time at the utopian Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Florence, Massachusetts, and after it disbanded in 1846, she dictated this account of her life's story to help purchase a home there. The narrative ends with her 1849 visit to New York to see her daughter and John Dumont, her former master, who finally acknowledges the evils of slavery. The Book of Life amplifies Truth's story with materials emphasizing her anti-slavery and women's-rights activism. Around 1857, she moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, though after the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), she worked in Washington as a counselor and educator for former slaves through the Freedman's Relief Association and the Freedmen's Hospital. She also crusaded for equal treatment for black and white passengers on local street cars. In 1874, she returned to Battle Creek to nurse an ill grandson, and after his death a year later, her own health irreversibly declined. Her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, addressed to the Woman's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, is also included here in a transcription by Mrs. Frances D. Gage.