Sojourner Truth: A Mother’s Love

A mother's love was never more apparent or powerful than when Sojourner Truth devoted her life to reclaiming her lost son.

| February 2014

While it may be impossible to truly measure joy, A Private History of Happiness (BlueBridge, 2012) offers such profound moments of such emotions, one cannot help but feel affected and uplifted. George Myerson offers ninety-nine tales of inner strength, love, perseverance, and charity meant to inspire and motivate. This selection, excerpted from "Creativity," recounts Sojourner Truth's journey to reunite with her long-lost son, who was sold into slavery after his birth.

The Feeling of Inner Strength

Sojourner Truth, abolitionist and women’s rights campaigner, telling her story to a friend (Florence, Massachusetts, late 1840s):

I’ll have my child again [. . .] I have no money, but God has enough, or what’s better! And I’ll have my child again [. . .] Oh my God! I knew I’d have him again. I was sure God would help me to get him. Why, I felt so tall within—I felt as if the power of a nation was with me!

Sojourner Truth was born around 1797 as an enslaved girl named Isabella on an estate in Ulster County, New York. She was sold suc­cessively to three owners during her childhood, the last being John Dumont and his wife, also in Ulster County. The wife in particu­lar treated her extremely cruelly. As a young woman, Truth had been forced to marry an older slave, Thomas; she had five children. Eventually she left the Dumonts and came to stay locally with Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen. In 1827, slavery was abolished in New York State. Truth found out that her son Peter (born in about 1822) had been sent to a slaveholder called Solomon Gedney, who then sold him to a planter in Alabama. But it was illegal to sell a slave out of the state of New York.

It was about twenty years later that Sojourner Truth, who had taken this name in her subsequent career as a preacher, abolition­ist, and campaigner, was telling the story of her earlier years to a friend named Olive Gilbert, whom she had met as a fellow member of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry (a uto­pian group) in Florence, Massachusetts. Olive Gilbert wrote down the experiences as dictated, with some comments, and they were pub­lished in 1850. It had been, in many ways, a personal conversation in which one friend told another of her life.

Here Truth reached the moment when she had gone in search of Peter and had sought out her previous owners, the Dumonts. Her aim was to find the man who had illegally sold her son.