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Abolitionist, Minister, Ex-Slave, Woman's Rights Activist
The woman we know as Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York as Isabella Baumfree (after her father's owner, Baumfree). She was sold several times, and while owned by the John Dumont family in Ulster County, married Thomas, another of Dumont's slaves. She had five children with Thomas. In 1827, New York law emancipated all slaves, but Isabella had already left her husband and run away with her youngest child. She went to work for the family of Isaac Van Wagenen.
The state of New York began, in 1799, to legislate the abolition of slavery, which took place on July 4, 1827. Dumont had promised Truth freedom a year before the state emancipation, "if she would do well and be faithful." However, he changed his mind, claiming a hand injury had made her less productive. She was infuriated. She continued working until she felt she had done enough to satisfy her sense of obligation to him by spinning 100 pounds of wool.
Late in 1826, Truth escaped to freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia. She had to leave her other children behind because they were not legally freed in the emancipation order until they had served as bound servants into their twenties. I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.
While working for the Van Wagenen's -- whose name she used briefly -- she discovered that a member of the Dumont family had sold one of her children to slavery in Alabama. Since this son had been emancipated under New York Law, Isabella sued in court and won his return.
Isabella experienced a religious conversion, moved to New York City and to a Methodist perfectionist commune, and there came under the influence of a religious prophet named Mathias. (Robert Matthews, also known as Matthias Kingdom or Prophet Matthias)
The commune fell apart a few years later, with allegations of sexual improprieties and even murder. Isabella herself was accused of poisoning, and sued successfully for libel. She continued as well during that time to work as a household servant.
In 1843, she took the name Sojourner Truth, believing this to be on the instructions of the Holy Spirit and became a traveling preacher (the meaning of her new name). In the late 1840s she connected with the abolitionist movement, becoming a popular speaker. In 1850, she also began speaking on woman suffrage. Her most famous speech, Ain't I a Woman? was given in 1851 at a women's rights convention in Ohio.
Sojourner Truth met Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote about her for the Atlantic Monthly and wrote a new introduction to Truth's autobiography, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.
Sojourner Truth moved to Michigan and joined yet another religious commune, this one associated with the Friends. She was at one point friendly with Millerites, a religious movement that grew out of Methodism and later became the Seventh Day Adventists.
During the Civil War Sojourner Truth raised food and clothing contributions for black regiments, and met Abraham Lincoln at the White House in 1864. While there, she tried to challenge the discrimination that segregated street cars by race.
After the War ended, Sojourner Truth again spoke widely, advocating for some time a "Negro State" in the west. She spoke mainly to white audiences, and mostly on religion, "Negro" and women's rights, and on temperance, though immediately after the Civil War she tried to organize efforts to provide jobs for black refugees from the war.
Active until 1875, when her grandson and companion fell ill, Sojourner Truth returned to Michigan where she died in 1883 and was buried in Battle Creek, Michigan. Her remains were buried there at Oak Hill Cemetery beside other family members. Her last words were "Be a follower of the Lord Jesus."
Ain't I A Woman?
This is Frances Gage's account of a speech given by Sojourner Truth at the Women's Rights Convention, 1851, in Akron, Ohio.Reminiscences by Frances D. Gage Akron Convention, Akron, Ohio, May 1851 "There were very few women in those days who dared to "speak in meeting"; and the august teachers of the people were seemingly getting the better of us, while the boys in the galleries, and the sneerers among the pews, were hugely enjoying the discomfiture, as they supposed, of the "strong-minded." Some of the tender-skinned friends were on the point of losing dignity, and the atmosphere betokened a storm. When, slowly from her seat in the corner rose Sojourner Truth, who, till now, had scarcely lifted her head. "Don't let her speak!" gasped half a dozen in my ear. She moved slowly and solemnly to the front, laid her old bonnet at her feet, and turned her great speaking eyes to me. There was a hissing sound of disapprobation above and below. I rose and announced "Sojourner Truth," and begged the audience to keep silence for a few moments." "The tumult subsided at once, and every eye was fixed on this almost Amazon form, which stood nearly six feet high, head erect, and eyes piercing the upper air like one in a dream. At her first word there was a profound hush. She spoke in deep tones, which, though not loud, reached every ear in the house, and away through the throng at the doors and windows.
She published the account in The History of Woman Suffrage, volume 1, co-authored with Susan B. Anthony, published in 1881. Recent scholarship has disputed whether this account, written about 30 years after the speech was given, is an accurate representation of Truth's speaking style. The dialect, in particular, may have been an addition by Gage. For more on this dispute, see Aint I A Woman Delivered by Sojourner Truth by About's Guide to African American History, Jessica McElrath. 1881 Account by Frances Gage:
"Wall, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be somethin' out o' kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de niggers of de Souf and de womin at de Nork, all talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all dis here talkin''bout? "Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunders, she asked "And a'n't I a woman? Look at me! Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And a'n't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man%u2014when I could get it%u2014and bear de lash a well! And a'n't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And a'n't I a woman? "Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head; what dis dey call it?" ("Intellect," whispered some one near.) "Dat's it, honey. What's dat got to do wid womin's rights or nigger's rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn't ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?" And she pointed her significant finger, and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud. "Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?" Rolling thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man. Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I can not follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let 'em." Long-continued cheering greeted this. "Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now old Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say." Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner, leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude.
She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty turning the whole tide in our favor. I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day, and turned the sneers and jeers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration. Hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her, and congratulate the glorious old mother, and bid her God-speed on her mission of "testifyin' agin concerning the wickedness of this 'ere people."
"Ain't I a woman?" is Sojourner Truth's most recognized speech. She delivered it at a women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851. There has been some dispute about what she said at the convention. According to Frances D. Gage, who published the speech in 1863, Truth encountered hissing and hostility as she began to speak. But according to Carleton Mabee, Gage's account is not consistent with other reports written immediately after the speech. Mabee contends that Truth did not encounter hostility. In fact, according to numerous newspaper accounts, the audience received her well. Mabee also asserts that while Gage accurately reported some of what Truth said, she embellished other parts. Namely, Truth's repetition of the famous phrase "Ain't I a woman." Instead, Mabee asserts that Gage most likely added this phrase, since it was not documented in any news story covering the convention, or in any other speeches that Truth made later.
Sojourner Truth Quotes
There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again.
Equal Rights Convention, New York, 1867
It is the mind that makes the body.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Truth burns up error.
Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
Religion without humanity is poor human stuff.
Sojourner Truth & Lincoln
Library of Congress title: A. Lincoln showing Sojourner Truth the Bible presented by colored people of Baltimore, Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., Oct. 29, 1864.
Sojourner Truth Speech
Delivered at the First Annual Meeting of the American Equal Rights Association
New York City, May 9, 1867
My friends, I am rejoiced that you are glad, but I don't know how you will feel when I get through. I come from another field - the country of the slave. They have got their liberty - so much good luck to have slavery partly destroyed; not entirely. I want it root and branch destroyed. Then we will all be free indeed. I feel that if I have to answer for the deeds done in my body just as much as a man, I have a right to have just as much as a man. There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again. White women are a great deal smarter, and know more than colored women, while colored women do not know scarcely anything. They go out washing, which is about as high as a colored woman gets, and their men go about idle, strutting up and down; and take it all, and then scold because there is no food. I want you consider on that, chil'n. I call you chil'n; you are somebody's chil'n, and I am old enough to be mother of all that is here. I want women to have their rights. In the courts women have no right, no voice; nobody speaks for them. I wish woman to have her voice there among the pettifoggers. If it is not a fit place for women, it is unfit for men to be there.
I am above eighty years old; it is about time for me to be going. I have been forty years a slave and forty years free and would be here forty years more to have equal rights for all. I suppose I am kept here because something remains for me to do; I suppose I am yet to help to break the chain. I have done a great deal of work; as much as a man, but did not get so much pay. I used to work in the field and bind grain, keeping up with the cradler; but men doing no more, got twice as much pay; so with the German women. They work in the field and do as much work, but do not get the pay. We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much. I suppose I am about the only colored woman that goes about to speak for the rights of colored women. I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is cracked. What we want is a little money. You men know that you get as much again as women when you write, or for what you do. When we get our rights we shall not have to come to you for money, for then we shall have money enough in our own pockets; and may be you will ask us for money. But help us now until we get it. It is a good consolation to know that when we have got this battle once fought we shall not be coming to you any more. You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again. I have been in Washington about three years, seeing about these colored people. Now colored men have the right to vote. There ought to be equal rights now more than ever, since colored people have got their freedom. I am going to talk several times while I am here; so now I will do a little singing. I have not heard any singing since I came here.
- 1862 -- William Story's statue, The Libyan Sibyl", inspired by Sojourner Truth, won an award at the London World Exhibition.
- 1892 -- Albion artist Frank Courter is commissioned to paint the meeting between Truth and President Lincoln.
- 1975 -- Philosopher Peter Singer uses Truth's quotes in his book Animal Liberation
- 1981 -- Truth is inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
- 1981 -- Feminist theorist and author, bell hooks, titles her first major work after Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech.
- 1983 -- Truth is in the first group of women inducted into the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in Lansing.
- 1986 -- U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp honoring Sojourner Truth.
- 1997 -- The NASA Mars Pathfinder mission's robotic rover was named "Sojourner" after her.
- The leftist group the Sojourner Truth Organization is named after her.
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorates her as a renewer of society on March 10, with Harriet Tubman.
Sojourner Truth~Facts, Memorials & Tributes
Isabella was sold four times:
- 1806- to Neeley (with a flock of sheep), for $100.00
- 1808- to Shriver, for $105.00
- 1810- to Dumont, for $300.00
- 1828- to Van Wagener, who bought Isabella and her daughter Sophia to give them their freedom.
Isabella spoke low Dutch until she was about 10 years old, and never learned to read or write. She was the mother of five children:
- Diane, b. 1815; buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan
- Peter, b. 1822; surmised to have been lost at sea
- Hannah, ?
- Elizabeth, b. 1825; buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan
- Sophia, b. 1826; buried at Harmonia Cemetery, Bedford Township, Calhoun County, Michigan
Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843, as she planned to travel the land telling the truth. There are some reports that this change was a response to a religious vision Truth experienced. She led a varied and colorful life in the East, where she won three lawsuits:
- When she retrieved her son, Peter, who had been sold illegally in New York state.
- A slander suit in New York city.
- When she was injured in a street car incident in Washington, D.C.
Sojourner Truth owned property in Northampton, Massachusetts before the Quaker Henry Willis brought her to Battle Creek to speak on October 4, 1856. Truth then bought a home at Harmonia, which is now part of the Fort Custer Industrial Park. This property was sold be the heirs in 1896.
In 1863 the Anti-Slavery Standard newspaper printed that Sojourner was ill at her home in Battle Creek and in need of funds. With this announcement, the donations poured in. In return she dispatched a letter to the Standard wishing her friends to know "She had budded out with the trees, but may fall with the Autumn leaves." She lived another 20 years and there were many false reports of her death in this period.
An 1867 letter written for Sojourner tells of her buying a lot with a barn on it at (what was then) 10 College Street from William Merritt, which she intended to make into a home. She stated that she had mortgaged everything she had to buy it, except for her body and a few old rags. This property was later purchased by the Battle Creek Postmaster who moved her small house to the back of the lot, building a new home in front. In 1915 there was a city-wide cleanup campaign and Sojourner1s old home, which he was using for a storage shed, was torn down. The only thing that remains of this structure today is a small piece of wood in the Sojourner Truth case at Kimball House Museum.
Sojourner spoke for women1s rights, abolition, prison reform, and addressed the Michigan Legislature against capital punishment. She women to task for the way they dressed, trussing themselves up in corsets and wearing high heeled shoes and hats trimmed with goose feathers, looking like they were ready to take off and fly like birds.
When she was invited to speak at a meeting at Florence, Massachusetts, she had just returned from a tiring trip. When called upon to speak, she rose and said, "Children, I have come here like the rest of you to hear what I have to say." In 1869 she gave up smoking her clay pipe. A friend had admonished her for the habit, telling her the Bible says that "no unclean thing can enter the Kingdom of Heaven", asking her how she expected to be admitted with her smoker1s bad breath. She replied, "When I goes to Heaven I expects to leave my bad breath behind." These are typical of her spontaneous and witty remarks. Probably her most famous address is the one she made at a Woman1s Rights Convention, which is referred to as her "Ain1t I A Woman" speech.
Not all people and churches welcomed her preaching and lectures, as some thought her crazy and ignorant. To her favor, she had many friends and staunch supporters among influential people of the period, including Amy Post, Parker Pillsbury, Mrs. Frances Gage, Wendell Phillips, William Garrison, Laura Haviland, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony.
During the Civil War, a number of men from Battle Creek joined the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry (which later became the 102nd U.S. Colored Infantry). They were stationed at Camp Ward, near Detroit. In 1863 Sojourner went to visit these troops, taking with her a Thanksgiving dinner prepared for them by the people of Battle Creek.
The first all-black Northern regiment formed during the Civil War was the 54th Massachusetts, mustered in at Camp Megis, just outside of Boston. Sojourner1s grandson James Caldwell was a member of this regiment, as were a number of other men from Battle Creek and Marshall. James was taken a prisoner of war at James Island, South Carolina, and released March 4, 1865. He returned to Battle Creek after the war, but there is no local record of his activities or death.
During and after the Civil War, thousands of slaves fled to Washington D.C., thinking that if they reached the capital, they would be safe and free. However, the government was totally unprepared for an influx of this magnitude. There was no place for them to live, very little food, and no employment. Sojourner worked with these people at Freedmen1s Village trying to improve their living conditions and was later employed by the government1s Freedmen1s Bureau.
It became an accepted practice for Maryland residents to come into the village to steal black children. If the parents complained of this illegal activity they were put into the guardhouse. When Sojourner learned of this kidnapping she told the parents that their rights were being violated and they had the legal right to protest. When it became known that Sojourner was giving out this advice, she was threatened with being thrown into the guardhouse also. Sojourner replied that if they attempted to do so, she would "make this nation rock like a cradle".
1864 letter written for Sojourner:
Am paid counselor at Freedmen1s village instructing women in home care among other duties (nursing, etc.). Trying to find out who is selling clothing to the colored people that was donated to the Colored Soldier1s Society, and was supposed to be given out free.
Sojourner was very active in trying to relocate her fellow blacks to less populated areas, particularly to the Western states. Sojourner urged the government to give them free land in these states and to pay their transportation costs. She carried petitions for this proposal with her, constantly asking people to sign them, making the remark "Why don't some of you stir Œem up (the government) as though an old body like myself could do all the stirring".
According to Battle Creek newspapers Sojourner spoke here in 1868, 1871, and 1872. She probably made many more public appearances which were not recorded. However, many of the speeches made outside of Michigan were followed quite closely and occasionally a complete text was printed.
On November 13, 1872, it was noted in a Battle Creek newspaper that Sojourner had tried to cast her vote in a local election. An 1881 article mentioned that she had brought one of her new pictures into the Moon-Journal offices, which she was selling for 50¢.
Sojourner Truth died at her home on College Street on November 26, 1883. Her funeral services, which was aid to have been attended by 1000 people, was held at the Presbyterian-Congregational Church. She is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan, lot #634, with other members of her family.
Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth were attending a meeting in Faneuil Hall, Boston, in 1850. Frederick had been speaking very despondently. A hush came over the audience as Sojourner rose and admonished Mr. Douglass by asking, "Frederick, is God dead?" These three words, "Is God Dead?" are inscribed on her tombstone, along with her reputed age of 105 which is really thought to be more like 86.
Mrs. Francis Titus, wife of Battle Creek millers Richard Titus, was Sojourner1s friend, biographer, traveling companion, sponsor, and lecture manager. In 1886 Mrs. Titus asked the public for donations to erect a suitable marker at Sojourner1s grave. This first marker was erected in 1891, paid for by T.B. Skinner, Judge Benjamin Graves, and Mrs. Titus. The marker deteriorated over time and was replaced by a second marker in 1916, followed by a third in 1946. A historical marker was put on her grave in 1961 by the Sojourner Truth Association.
In 1892, Mrs. Titus commissioned Franklin C. Courter to paint a rendition of the meeting between Sojourner and President Abraham Lincoln. The meeting had taken place October 29, 1864, at the White House in Washington D.C. At the meeting the President had displayed to Sojourner the Bible presented to him by the black people of Baltimore, Maryland. Known as the Lincoln Bible, it was presented to Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, by the president1s son Robert. The Bible was thought to be lost for a time, but is now reported to be on prominent display at Fisk.
When the Courter painting was completed it was shown at the 1893 Chicago World1s Columbian Exposition. It was then brought back to Battle Creek and hung in the old Battle Creek Sanitarium. When the Sanitarium burned to the ground in 1902, the painting was lost. Fortunately, a local painter named Frank Perry had taken a picture of the canvas and copies of his photograph could be purchased by the public. It is Perry1s photographic copy of the painting that is most frequently used today, although black artist Lottie Wilson painted a copy of the photo which is on display at the Niles Public Library in Niles, Michigan. There is another rendition by John Jackson of Detroit around 1913 or 1915 which is in the Detroit Museum.
There are many memorials and tributes to Sojourner Truth in Battle Creek, Michigan:
- 1901: Sojourner Truth Society formed
- 1915: Sojourner Truth memorial Association formed
- 1935: Dedication of a stone in the cairn at Post Park to Sojourner
- 1944: Sojourner Truth Memorial Association incorporates
- 1966: Mayor Preston Kool declares May 18 to be Sojourner Truth Day
- 1987: A Michigan Women1s Studies marker is placed
- Dedication of North M-66 highway as Sojourner Truth Memorial Highway
- The Sojourner Truth plaque in the Hall of Justice.
A United States postage stamp was issued in Sojourner Truth1s honor in 1986, and Sojourner has been named to both the Michigan and National Women1s Hall of Fame
Sojourner Truth, The Libyan Sibyl
By: Harriet Beecher Stowe
Many years ago, the few readers of radical Abolitionist papers must often have seen the singular name of Sojourner Truth, announced as a frequent speaker at Anti-Slavery meetings, and as travelling on a sort of self-appointed agency through the country. I had myself often remarked the name, but never met the individual. On one occasion, when our house was filled with company, several eminent clergymen being our guests, notice was brought up to me that Sojourner Truth was below, and requested an interview. Knowing nothing of her but her singular name, I went down, prepared to make the interview short, as the pressure of many other engagements demanded.
When I went into the room, a tall, spare form arose to meet me. She was evidently a full-blooded African, and though now aged and worn with many hardships, still gave the impression of a physical development which in early youth must have been as fine a specimen of the torrid zone as Cumberworth’s celebrated statuette of the Negro Woman at the Fountain. Indeed, she so strongly reminded me of that figure, that, when I recall the events of her life, as she narrated them to me, I imagine her as a living, breathing impersonation of that work of art.
I do not recollect ever to have been conversant with any one who had more of that silent and subtle power which we call personal presence than this woman. In the modern Spiritualistic phraseology, she would be described as having a strong sphere. Her tall form, as she rose up before me, is still vivid to my mind. She was dressed in some stout, grayish stuff, neat and clean, though dusty from travel. On her head, she wore a bright Madras handkerchief, arranged as a turban, after the manner of her race. She seemed perfectly self-possessed and at her ease,--in fact, there was almost an unconscious superiority, not unmixed with a solemn twinkle of humor, in the odd, composed manner in which she looked down on me. Her whole air had at times a gloomy sort of drollery which impressed one strangely.
“So this is YOU,” she said.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Well, honey, de Lord bless ye! I jes’ thought I’d like to come an’ have a look at ye. You’s heerd o’ me, I reckon?” she added.
“Yes, I think I have. You go about lecturing, do you not?”
“Yes, honey, that’s what I do. The Lord has made me a sign unto this nation, an’ I go round a’testifyin’, an’ showin’ on ‘em their sins agin my people.”
So saying, she took a seat, and, stooping over and crossing her arms on her knees, she looked down on the floor, and appeared to fall into a sort of reverie. Her great gloomy eyes and her dark face seemed to work with some undercurrent of feeling; she sighed deeply, and occasionally broke out,--
“O Lord! O Lord! Oh, the tears, an’ the groans, an’ the moans! O Lord!”
I should have said that she was accompanied by a little grandson of ten years,--the fattest, jolliest woolly-headed little specimen of Africa that one can imagine. He was grinning and showing his glistening white teeth in a state of perpetual merriment, and at this moment broke out into an audible giggle, which disturbed the reverie into which his relative was falling.
She looked at him with an indulgent sadness, and then at me.
“Laws, Ma’am, HE don’t know nothin’ about it--HE don’t. Why, I’ve seen them poor critters, beat an’ ‘bused an’ hunted, brought in all torn,--ears hangin’ all in rags, where the dogs been a’bitin’ of ‘em!”
This set off our little African Puck into another giggle, in which he seemed perfectly convulsed.
She surveyed him soberly, without the slightest irritation.
“Well, you may bless the Lord you CAN laugh; but I tell you, ‘t wa’n’t no laughin’ matter.”
By this time I thought her manner so original that it might be worth while to call down my friends; and she seemed perfectly well pleased with the idea. An audience was what she wanted,--it mattered not whether high or low, learned or ignorant. She had things to say, and was ready to say them at all times, and to any one.
I called down Dr. Beecher, Professor Allen, and two or three other clergymen, who, together with my husband and family, made a roomful. No princess could have received a drawing-room with more composed dignity than Sojourner her audience. She stood among them, calm and erect, as one of her own native palm-trees waving alone in the desert. I presented one after another to her, and at last said,--
“Sojourner, this is Dr. Beecher. He is a very celebrated preacher.”
“IS he?” she said, offering her hand in a condescending manner, and looking down on his white head. “Ye dear lamb, I’m glad to see ye! De Lord bless ye! I loves preachers. I’m a kind o’ preacher myself.”
“You are?” said Dr. Beecher. “Do you preach from the Bible?”
“No, honey, can’t preach from de Bible,--can’t read a letter.”
“Why, Sojourner, what do you preach from, then?”
Her answer was given with a solemn power of voice, peculiar to herself, that hushed every one in the room.
“When I preaches, I has jest one text to preach from, an’ I always preaches from this one. MY text is, ‘WHEN I FOUND JESUS.’”
“Well, you couldn’t have a better one,” said one of the ministers.
She paid no attention to him, but stood and seemed swelling with her own thoughts, and then began this narration:--
“Well, now, I’ll jest have to go back, an’ tell ye all about it. Ye see, we was all brought over from Africa, father an’ mother an’ I, an’ a lot more of us; an’ we was sold up an’ down, an’ hither an’ yon; an’ I can ‘member, when I was a little thing, not bigger than this ‘ere,” pointing to her grandson, “how my ole mammy would sit out o’ doors in the evenin’, an’ look up at the stars an’ groan. She’d groan an’ groan, an’ says I to her,--
“‘Mammy, what makes you groan so?’
“an’ she’d say,--
“‘Matter enough, chile! I’m groanin’ to think o’ my poor children: they don’t know where I be, an’ I don’t know where they be; they looks up at the stars, an’ I looks up at the stars, but I can’t tell where they be.
“‘Now,’ she said, ‘chile, when you’re grown up, you may be sold away from your mother an’ all your ole friends, an’ have great troubles come on ye; an’ when you has these troubles come on ye, ye jes’ go to God, an’ He’ll help ye.’
“An’ says I to her,--
“‘Who is God, anyhow, mammy?’
“An’ says she,--
“‘Why, chile, you jes’ look up DAR! It’s Him that made all DEM!”
“Well, I didn’t mind much ‘bout God in them days. I grew up pretty lively an’ strong, an’ could row a boat, or ride a horse, or work round, an’ do ‘most anything.
“At last I got sold away to a real hard massa an’ missis. Oh, I tell you, they WAS hard! ‘Peared like I couldn’t please ‘em, nohow. An’ then I thought o’ what my old mammy told me about God; an’ I thought I’d got into trouble, sure enough, an’ I wanted to find God, an’ I heerd some one tell a story about a man that met God on a threshin’-floor, an’ I thought, ‘Well an’ good, I’ll have a threshin’-floor, too.’ So I went down in the lot, an’ I threshed down a place real hard, an’ I used to go down there every day, an’ pray an’ cry with all my might, a-prayin’ to the Lord to make my massa an’ missis better, but it didn’t seem to do no good; an’ so says I, one day,--
“‘O God, I been a-askin’ ye, an’ askin’ ye, an’ askin’ ye, for all this long time, to make my massa an’ missis better, an’ you don’t do it, an’ what CAN be the reason? Why, maybe you CAN’T. Well, I shouldn’t wonder ef you couldn’t. Well, now, I tell you, I’ll make a bargain with you. Ef you’ll help me to git away from my massa an’ missis, I’ll agree to be good; but ef you don’t help me, I really don’t think I can be. Now,’ says I, ‘I want to git away; but the trouble’s jest here: ef I try to git away in the night, I can’t see; an’ ef I try to git away in the daytime, they’ll see me, an’ be after me.’
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Git up two or three hours afore daylight, an’ start off.’
“An’ says I, ‘Thank ‘ee, Lord! that’s a good thought.’
“So up I got, about three o’clock in the mornin’, an’ I started an’ travelled pretty fast, till, when the sun rose, I was clear away from our place an’ our folks, an’ out o’ sight. An’ then I begun to think I didn’t know nothin’ where to go. So I kneeled down, and says I,--
“‘Well, Lord, you’ve started me out, an’ now please to show me where to go.’
“Then the Lord made a house appear to me, an’ He said to me that I was to walk on till I saw that house, an’ then go in an’ ask the people to take me. An’ I travelled all day, an’ didn’t come to the house till late at night; but when I saw it, sure enough, I went in, an’ I told the folks that the Lord sent me; an’ they was Quakers, an’ real kind they was to me. They jes’ took me in, an’ did for me as kind as ef I’d been one of ‘em; an’ after they’d giv me supper, they took me into a room where there was a great, tall, white bed; an’ they told me to sleep there. Well, honey, I was kind o’ skeered when they left me alone with that great white bed; ’cause I never had been in a bed in my life. It never came into my mind they could mean me to sleep in it. An’ so I jes’ camped down under it, on the floor, an’ then I slep’ pretty well. In the mornin’, when they came in, they asked me ef I hadn’t been asleep; an’ I said, ‘Yes, I never slep’ better.’ An’ they said, ‘Why, you haven’t been in the bed!’ An’ says I, ‘Laws, you didn’t think o’ such a thing as my sleepin’ in dat ‘ar’ BED, did you? I never heerd o’ such a thing in my life.’
“Well, ye see, honey, I stayed an’ lived with ‘em. An’ now jes’ look here: instead o’ keepin’ my promise an’ bein’ good, as I told the Lord I would, jest as soon as everything got a’goin’ easy, I FORGOT ALL ABOUT GOD.
“Pretty well don’t need no help; an’ I gin up prayin.’ I lived there two or three years, an’ then the slaves in New York were all set free, an’ ole massa came to our home to make a visit, an’ he asked me ef I didn’t want to go back an’ see the folks on the ole place. An’ I told him I did. So he said, ef I’d jes’ git into the wagon with him, he’d carry me over. Well, jest as I was goin’ out to git into the wagon, I MET GOD! an’ says I, ‘O God, I didn’t know as you was so great!’ An’ I turned right round an’ come into the house, an’ set down in my room; for ‘t was God all around me. I could feel it burnin’, burnin’, burnin’ all around me, an’ goin’ through me; an’ I saw I was so wicked, it seemed as ef it would burn me up. An’ I said, ‘O somebody, somebody, stand between God an’ me! for it burns me!’ Then, honey, when I said so, I felt as it were somethin’ like an amberill [umbrella] that came between me an’ the light, an’ I felt it was SOMEBODY,--somebody that stood between me an’ God; an’ it felt cool, like a shade; an’ says I, ’Who’s this that stands between me an’ God? Is it old Cato?’ He was a pious old preacher; but then I seemed to see Cato in the light, an’ he was all polluted an’ vile, like me; an’ I said, ‘Is it old Sally?’ an’ then I saw her, an’ she seemed jes’ so. An’ then says I, ‘WHO is this?’ An’ then, honey, for a while it was like the sun shinin’ in a pail o’ water, when it moves up an’ down; for I begun to feel ‘t was somebody that loved me; an’ I tried to know him. An’ I said, ‘I know you! I know you! I know you!’--an’ then I said, ‘I don’t know you! I don’t know you! I don’t know you!’ An’ when I said, ‘I know you, I know you,’ the light came; an’ when I said, ‘I don’t know you, I don’t know you,’ it went, jes’ like the sun in a pail o’ water. An’ finally somethin’ spoke out in me an’ said, ‘THIS IS JESUS!’ An’ I spoke out with all my might, an’ says I, ‘THIS IS JESUS! Glory be to God!’ An’ then the whole world grew bright, an’ the trees they waved an’ waved in glory, an’ every little bit o’ stone on the ground shone like glass; an’ I shouted an’ said, ‘Praise, praise, praise to the Lord!’ An’ I begun to feel such a love in my soul as I never felt before,--love to all creatures. An’ then, all of a sudden, it stopped, an’ I said, ‘Dar’s de white folks, that have abused you an’ beat you an’ abused your people,--think o’ them!’ But then there came another rush of love through my soul, an’ I cried out loud,--’Lord, Lord, I can love EVEN DE WHITE FOLKS!’
“Honey, I jes’ walked round an’ round in a dream. Jesus loved me! I knowed it,--I felt it. Jesus was my Jesus. Jesus would love me always. I didn’t dare tell nobody; ‘t was a great secret. Everything had been got away from me that I ever had; an’ I thought that ef I let white folks know about this, maybe they’d get HIM away,--so I said, ‘I’ll keep this close. I won’t let any one know.’”
“But, Sojourner, had you never been told about Jesus Christ?”
“No, honey. I hadn’t heerd no preachin’,--been to no meetin’. Nobody hadn’t told me. I’d kind o’ heerd of Jesus, but thought he was like Gineral Lafayette, or some o’ them. But one night there was a Methodist meetin’ somewhere in our parts, an’ I went; an’ they got up an’ begun for to tell der ‘speriences; an’ de fust one begun to speak. I started, ‘cause he told about Jesus. ‘Why,’ says I to myself, ‘dat man’s found him, too!’ An’ another got up an’ spoke, an I said, ‘He’s found him, too!’ An’ finally I said, ’Why, they all know him!’ I was so happy! An’ then they sung this hymn”: (Here Sojourner sang, in a strange, cracked voice, but evidently with all her soul and might, mispronouncing the English, but seeming to derive as much elevation and comfort from bad English as from good):--
’There is a holy city,
A world of light above,
Above the stairs and regions,*
Built by the God of Love.
“An Everlasting temple,
And saints arrayed in white
There serve their great Redeemer
And dwell with him in light.
“The meanest child of glory
Outshines the radiant sun;
But who can speak the splendor
Of Jesus on his throne?
“Is this the man of sorrows
Who stood at Pilate’s bar,
Condemned by haughty Herod
And by his men of war?
“He seems a mighty conqueror,
Who spoiled the powers below,
And ransomed many captives
From everlasting woe.
“The hosts of saints around him
Proclaim his work of grace,
The patriarchs and prophets,
And all the godly race,
“Who speak of fiery trials
And tortures on their way;
They came from tribulation
To everlasting day.
“And what shall be my journey,
How long I’ll stay below,
Or what shall be my trials,
Are not for me to know.
“In every day of trouble
I’ll raise my thoughts on high,
I’ll think of that bright temple
And crowns above the sky.”
* Starry regions.
I put in this whole hymn, because Sojourner, carried away with her own feeling, sang it from beginning to end with a triumphant energy that held the whole circle around her intently listening. She sang with the strong barbaric accent of the native African, and with those indescribable upward turns and those deep gutturals which give such a wild, peculiar power to the negro singing,--but above all, with such an overwhelming energy of personal appropriation that the hymn seemed to be fused in the furnace of her feelings and come out recrystallized as a production of her own.
It is said that Rachel was wont to chant the “Marseillaise” in a manner that made her seem, for the time, the very spirit and impersonation of the gaunt, wild, hungry, avenging mob which rose against aristocratic oppression; and in like manner, Sojourner, singing this hymn, seemed to impersonate the fervor of Ethiopia, wild, savage, hunted of all nations, but burning after God in her tropic heart, and stretching her scarred hands towards the glory to be revealed.
“Well, den ye see, after a while, I thought I’d go back an’ see de folks on de ole place. Well, you know, de law had passed dat de culled folks was all free; an’ my old missis, she had a daughter married about dis time who went to live in Alabama,--an’ what did she do but give her my son, a boy about de age of dis yer, for her to take down to Alabama? When I got back to de ole place, they told me about it, an’ I went right up to see ole missis, an’ says I,--
“‘Missis, have you been an’ sent my son away down to Alabama?’
“‘Yes, I have,’ says she; ‘he’s gone to live with your young missis.’
“‘Oh, Missis,’ says I, ‘how could you do it?’
“‘Poh!’ says she, ‘what a fuss you make about a little nigger! Got more of ‘em now than you know what to do with.’
“I tell you, I stretched up. I felt as tall as the world!
“‘Missis,’ says I, ‘I’LL HAVE MY SON BACK AGIN!’
“‘YOU will, you nigger? How you goin’ to do it? You ha’n’t got no money.”
“‘No, Missis,--but GOD has,--an’ you’ll see He’ll help me!’--an’ I turned round an’ went out.
“Oh, but I WAS angry to have her speak to me so haughty an’ so scornful, as ef my chile wasn’t worth anything. I said to God, ‘O Lord, render unto her double!’ It was a dreadful prayer, an’ I didn’t know how true it would come.
“Well, I didn’t rightly know which way to turn; but I went to the Lord, an’ I said to Him, ‘O Lord, ef I was as rich as you be, an’ you was as poor as I be, I’d help you,--you KNOW I would; and, oh, do help me!’ An’ I felt sure then that He would.
“Well, I talked with people, an’ they said I must git the case before a grand jury. So I went into the town when they was holdin’ a court, to see ef I could find any grand jury. An’ I stood round the court-house, an’ when they was a-comin’ out, I walked right up to the grandest-lookin’ one I could see, an’ says I to him,--
“‘Sir, be you a grand jury?’
“An’ then he wanted to know why I asked, an’ I told him all about it; an’ he asked me all sorts of questions, an’ finally he says to me,--
“‘I think, ef you pay me ten dollars, that I’d agree to git your son for you.’ An’ says he, pointin’ to a house over the way, ‘You go ‘long an’ tell your story to the folks in that house, an’ I guess they’ll give you the money.’
“Well, I went, an’ I told them, an’ they gave me twenty dollars; an’ then I thought to myself, ‘Ef ten dollars will git him, twenty dollars will git him SARTIN.’ So I carried it to the man all out, an’ said,--
“‘Take it all,--only be sure an’ git him.’
“Well, finally they got the boy brought back; an’ then they tried to frighten him, an’ to make him say that I wasn’t his mammy, an’ that he didn’t know me; but they couldn’t make it out. They gave him to me, an’ I took him an’ carried him home; an’ when I came to take off his clothes, there was his poor little back all covered with scars an’ hard lumps, where they’d flogged him.
“Well, you see, honey, I told you how I prayed the Lord to render unto her double. Well, it came true; for I was up at ole missis’ house not long after, an’ I heerd ‘em readin’ a letter to her how her daughter’s husband had murdered her,--how he’d thrown her down an’ stamped the life out of her, when he was in liquor; an’ my ole missis, she giv a screech, an’ fell flat on the floor. Then says I, ‘O Lord, I didn’t mean all that! You took me up too quick.’
“Well, I went in an’ tended that poor critter all night. She was out of her mind,--a-cryin’, an’ callin’ for her daughter; an’ I held her poor ole head on my arm, an’ watched for her as ef she’d been my babby. An’ I watched by her, an’ took care on her all through her sickness after that, an’ she died in my arms, poor thing!”
“Well, Sojourner, did you always go by this name?”
“No, ‘deed! My name was Isabella; but when I left the house of bondage, I left everything behind. I wa’n’t goin’ to keep nothin’ of Egypt on me, an’ so I went to the Lord an’ asked Him to give me a new name. And the Lord gave me Sojourner, because I was to travel up an’ down the land, showin’ the people their sins, an’ bein’ a sign unto them. Afterwards I told the Lord I wanted another name, ‘cause everybody else had two names; and the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare the truth to the people.
“Ye see some ladies have given me a white satin banner,” she said, pulling out of her pocket and unfolding a white banner, printed with many texts, such as, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” and others of like nature. “Well,” she said, “I journeys round to camp-meetins, an’ wherever folks is, an’ I sets up my banner, an’ then I sings, an’ then folks always comes up round me, an’ then I preaches to ‘em. I tells ‘em about Jesus, an’ I tells ‘em about the sins of this people. A great many always comes to hear me; an’ they’re right good to me, too, an’ say they want to hear me agin.”
We all thought it likely; and as the company left her, they shook hands with her, and thanked her for her very original sermon; and one of the ministers was overheard to say to another, “There’s more of the gospel in that story than in most sermons.”
Sojourner stayed several days with us, a welcome guest. Her conversation was so strong, simple, shrewd, and with such a droll flavoring of humor, that the Professor was wont to say of an evening, “Come, I am dull, can’t you get Sojourner up here to talk a little?” She would come up into the parlor, and sit among pictures and ornaments, in her simple stuff gown, with her heavy travelling-shoes, the central object of attention both to parents and children, always ready to talk or to sing, and putting into the common flow of conversation the keen edge of some shrewd remark.
“Sojourner, what do you think of Women’s Rights?”
“Well, honey, I’s ben to der meetins, an’ harked a good deal. Dey wanted me for to speak. So I got up. Says I,--’Sisters, I a’n’t clear what you’d be after. Ef women want any rights more ‘n dey’s got, why don’t dey jes’ TAKE ‘EM, an’ not be talkin’ about it?’ Some on ‘em came round me, an’ asked why I didn’t wear Bloomers. An’ I told ‘em I had Bloomers enough when I was in bondage. You see,” she said, “dey used to weave what dey called nigger-cloth, an’ each one of us got jes’ sech a strip, an’ had to wear it width-wise. Them that was short got along pretty well, but as for me”--She gave an indescribably droll glance at her long limbs and then at us, and added,--”Tell YOU, I had enough of Bloomers in them days.”
Sojourner then proceeded to give her views of the relative capacity of the sexes, in her own way.
“S’pose a man’s mind holds a quart, an’ a woman’s don’t hold but a pint; ef her pint is FULL, it’s as good as his quart.”
Sojourner was fond of singing an extraordinary lyric, commencing,--
“I’m on my way to Canada,
That cold, but happy land;
The dire effects of Slavery
I can no longer stand.
O righteous Father,
Do look down on me,
And help me on to Canada,
Where colored folks are free!”
The lyric ran on to state, that, when the fugitive crosses the Canada line,
“The Queen comes down unto the shore,
With arms extended wide,
To welcome the poor fugitive
Safe onto Freedom’s side.”
In the truth thus set forth she seemed to have the most simple faith.
But her chief delight was to talk of “glory,” and to sing hymns whose burden was,--
“O glory, glory, glory,
Won’t you come along with me?”
and when left to herself, she would often hum these with great delight, nodding her head.
On one occasion, I remember her sitting at a window singing and fervently keeping time with her head, the little black Puck of a grandson meanwhile amusing himself with ornamenting her red-and- yellow turban with green dandelion-curls, which shook and trembled with her emotions, causing him perfect convulsions of delight.
“Sojourner,” said the Professor to her, one day, when he heard her singing, “you seem to be very sure about heaven.”
“Well, I be,” she answered, triumphantly.
“What makes you so sure there is any heaven?”
“Well, ‘cause I got such a hankerin’ arter it in here,” she said,-- giving a thump on her breast with her usual energy.
There was at the time an invalid in the house, and Sojourner, on learning it, felt a mission to go and comfort her. It was curious to see the tall, gaunt, dusky figure stalk up to the bed with such an air of conscious authority, and take on herself the office of consoler with such a mixture of authority and tenderness. She talked as from above,--and at the same time, if a pillow needed changing or any office to be rendered, she did it with a strength and handiness that inspired trust. One felt as if the dark, strange woman were quite able to take up the invalid in her bosom, and bear her as a lamb, both physically and spiritually. There was both power and sweetness in that great warm soul and that vigorous frame.
At length, Sojourner, true to her name, departed. She had her mission elsewhere. Where now she is I know not; but she left deep memories behind her.
To these recollections of my own I will add one more anecdote, related by Wendell Phillips.
Speaking of the power of Rachel to move and bear down a whole audience by a few simple words, he said he never knew but one other human being that had that power, and that other was Sojourner Truth. He related a scene of which he was witness. It was at a crowded public meeting in Faneuil Hall, where Frederick Douglas was one of the chief speakers. Douglas had been describing the wrongs of the black race, and as he proceeded, he grew more and more excited, and finally ended by saying that they had no hope of justice from the whites, no possible hope except in their own right arms. It must come to blood; they must fight for themselves, and redeem themselves, or it would never be done.
Sojourner was sitting, tall and dark, on the very front seat, facing the platform; and in the hush of deep feeling, after Douglas sat down, she spoke out in her deep, peculiar voice, heard all over the house,--
“Frederick, IS GOD DEAD?”
The effect was perfectly electrical, and thrilled through the whole house, changing as by a flash the whole feeling of the audience. Not another word she said or needed to say; it was enough.
It is with a sad feeling that one contemplates noble minds and bodies, nobly and grandly formed human beings, that have come to us cramped, scarred, maimed, out of the prison-house of bondage. One longs to know what such beings might have become, if suffered to unfold and expand under the kindly developing influences of education.
It is the theory of some writers, that to the African is reserved, in the later and palmier days of the earth, the full and harmonious development of the religious element in man. The African seems to seize on the tropical fervor and luxuriance of Scripture imagery as something native; he appears to feel himself to be of the same blood with those old burning, simple souls, the patriarchs, prophets, and seers, whose impassioned words seem only grafted as foreign plants on the cooler stock of the Occidental mind.
I cannot but think that Sojourner with the same culture might have spoken words as eloquent and undying as those of the African Saint Augustine or Tertullian. How grand and queenly a woman she might have been, with her wonderful physical vigor, her great heaving sea of emotion, her power of spiritual conception, her quick penetration, and her boundless energy! We might conceive an African type of woman so largely made and moulded, so much fuller in all the elements of life, physical and spiritual, that the dark hue of the skin should seem only to add an appropriate charm,--as Milton says of his Penseroso, whom he imagines
“Black, but such as in esteem
Prince Memnon’s sister might beseem,
Or that starred Ethiop queen that strove
To set her beauty’s praise above
But though Sojourner Truth has passed away from among us as a wave of the sea, her memory still lives in one of the loftiest and most original works of modern art, the Libyan Sibyl, by Mr. Story, which attracted so much attention in the late World’s Exhibition. Some years ago, when visiting Rome, I related Sojourner’s history to Mr. Story at a breakfast at his house. Already had his mind begun to turn to Egypt in search of a type of art which should represent a larger and more vigorous development of nature than the cold elegance of Greek lines. His glorious Cleopatra was then in process of evolution, and his mind was working out the problem of her broadly developed nature, of all that slumbering weight and fulness of passion with which this statue seems charged, as a heavy thunder-cloud is charged with electricity.
The history of Sojourner Truth worked in his mind and led him into the deeper recesses of the African nature,--those unexplored depths of being and feeling, mighty and dark as the gigantic depths of tropical forests, mysterious as the hidden rivers and mines of that burning continent whose life-history is yet to be. A few days after, he told me that he had conceived the idea of a statue which he should call the Libyan Sibyl. Two years subsequently, I revisited Rome, and found the gorgeous Cleopatra finished, a thing to marvel at, as the creation of a new style of beauty, a new manner of art. Mr. Story requested me to come and repeat to him the history of Sojourner Truth, saying that the conception had never left him. I did so; and a day or two after, he showed me the clay model of the Libyan Sibyl. I have never seen the marble statue; but am told by those who have, that it was by far the most impressive work of art at the Exhibition.
A notice of the two statues from the London “Athenaeum” must supply a description which I cannot give.
“The Cleopatra and the Sibyl are seated, partly draped, with the characteristic Egyptian gown, that gathers about the torso and falls freely around the limbs; the first is covered to the bosom, the second bare to the hips. Queenly Cleopatra rests back against her chair in meditative ease, leaning her cheek against one hand, whose elbow the rail of the seat sustains; the other is outstretched upon her knee, nipping its forefinger upon the thumb thoughtfully, as though some firm, wilful purpose filled her brain, as it seems to set those luxurious features to a smile as if the whole woman ‘would.’ Upon her head is the coif, bearing in front the mystic uraeus, or twining basilisk of sovereignty, while from its sides depend the wide Egyptian lappels, or wings, that fall upon her shoulders. The Sibilla Libica has crossed her knees,--an action universally held amongst the ancients as indicative of reticence or secrecy, and of power to bind. A secret-keeping looking dame she is, in the full-bloom proportions of ripe womanhood, wherein choosing to place his figure the sculptor has deftly gone between the disputed point whether these women were blooming and wise in youth, or deeply furrowed with age and burdened with the knowledge of centuries, as Virgil, Livy, and Gellius say. Good artistic example might be quoted on both sides. Her forward elbow is propped upon one knee; and to keep her secrets close, for this Libyan woman is the closest of all the Sibyls, she rests her shut mouth upon one closed palm, as if holding the African mystery deep in the brooding brain that looks out through mournful, warning eyes, seen under the wide shade of the strange horned (ammonite) crest, that bears the mystery of the Tetragrammaton upon its upturned front. Over her full bosom, mother of myriads as she was, hangs the same symbol. Her face has a Nubian cast, her hair wavy and plaited, as is meet.”
We hope to see the day when copies both of the Cleopatra and the Libyan Sibyl shall adorn the Capitol at Washington.
Atlantic Monthly 11 (April 1863): 473-481.
Friends of Human Progress Association
In October of 1856, Sojourner Truth went to Michigan to address the Friends of Human Progress Association. It was there that she spoke about the injustice of slavery and its impact on families. She told the audience about her five children that she loved but lost to slavery. However, Truth believed in God and also believed that all the rights and love that were taken away from slaves in this life would be returned to them in heaven.
On June 12, 1863, an unidentified newspaper ran a version of one of Truth's speeches from a meeting at the State Sabbath School Convention in Battle Creek, Michigan. Here Truth spoke to the people about race relations and how God made everyone who they are, so it was not fair to degrade others based on their race because it was God who had made them that way. "Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Saviour die to save the one as well as the other? If so, white children must know that if they go to Heaven, they must go there without their prejudice against color, for in Heaven black and white are one in the love of Jesus."
In an October 29, 1864 letter dictated by Sojourner Truth to a friend, Rowland Johnson, Truth speaks of her meeting with President Abraham Lincon. Truth told God that she believed Lincoln was a good man, and if he were spared and not "thrown into the lion's den and the lions did not tear him up," then she would know that God had saved him for her to meet. Therefore, in his four years, she at some point had to meet him. They spoke about the end of slavery and how grateful she was to him for signing the treaty. In her letter, Truth said, "I must say, I am proud to say, that I never was treated by anyone with more kindness and cordiality than were shown to me by that great and good man, Abraham Lincoln, by the grace of God, president of the United States for four years more."
In June 1881, the state legislature of Michigan was considering a measure to institute capital punishment in the state. Truth addressed the members of the legislature, and a reporter's version was printed in the Battle Creek Nightly Noon Newspaper on June 8, 1881. She spoke about God being against capital punishment, and how He commands us to love one another. She closed by saying "Remember, the things I say to you in this capitol tonight will never die. He who sanctions the crime of hanging will have to answer for it. I believe that God has spared me to do good to this white population, which has done so much good to the black race. How wonderful God turns things." The Wyckoff hanging bill was rejected.
Despite the fact that she could not read or write, Truth gave powerful speeches pertaining to women and slaves. Fortunately, many of her speeches were recorded and published. She also spoke before Congress and two presidents. Sojourner Truth's religious experiences carried over into her Narrative, which was a striking spiritual work which focuses mainly on the evolution of her faith and religious experiences. Additionally, because it ends not with an indictment of slave owners but a prayer of forgiveness for their mistakes, it has always remained outside the canon of ex-slave narratives (Byington).
Truth is known for her humor and biblical references in her speeches. She spoke on controversial topics with rarely a prepared speech. Topics ranged from abolition to women's rights and temperance. Truth's speeches were often a voice of the Black population in the history of feminism. "The very fact that Truth's message has remained pertinent for so long inspires investigation into her place in feminist abolitionism. The function of her public persona in the history of American reform" (Byington). She did not believe in traditional roles of women in society; she established herself without a husband and lived her life telling her inspiring and controversial views with great passion.
It is Rarely Discussed but.........
It is rarely discussed, but.....
Sojourner Truth fought for the desegregation of public transportation in Washington, DC during the Civil War. She refused to face the indignities of Jim Crow segregation on street cars and had the Jim Crow car removed from the Washington D. C. system. Sojourner Truth brought a local street to a standstill when a driver refused her passage. With the support of the crowd she forced the driver to carry her.
As a speaker, Sojourner Truth became known for her quick wit and powerful presence. She would never be intimidated. Because of her powerful speaking ability, independent spirit and her six foot frame, she was often accused of being a man. She ended that in Silver Lake, Indiana when she exposed her breast to the audience that accused her.
When the Civil War began, Truth organized supplies for black volunteer troops. In 1864, President Lincoln received her at the White House. That same year, she advised former slaves on behalf of the National Freedmen's Relief Association. She continued to offer advice in the 1870s, encouraging African Americans to migrate to the western states of Kansas and Missouri.
At the Civil War's end she worked as counselor to the newly freed slaves who gathered in Washington. Hoping to aid in their transition to freedom, she circulated a petition for public lands to be set aside in the West for a "Negro state." She continued to speak, proclaiming God's love and the rights of the disadvantaged.
Truth managed to reunite with most of her children. Three daughters joined her in Battle Creek, Michigan where she settled in the 1850s. When she died at age eighty-six, her funeral at the Congregational Church was thought to be the largest ever seen in that city.
Frances Titus: Sojourner's "Trusted Scribe"
by Martin L. Ashley
(This article first appeared in Heritage Battle Creek, A Journal of Local History. Vol 8. Fall, 1997)
But Frances Titus accomplished much more than this during her lifetime. She was a leader in two important reform movements of her time. She founded a school for resettled freedmen and was a major figure in local and state suffrage movements. When she died in 1894, her obituary noted:
Being of good Quaker stock and loving liberty and believing in good works, as good Quakers do, she turned in earlier years with special sympathy to the wants of fugitives from slavery, and later, to those who were made free under the National Emancipation.
Frances Walling was born in 1816 at Charlotte, Vermont, and was raised in a Quaker household. Little is known of her childhood and early teenage years which she spent in Cleveland, Ohio.
In October 1844 she married Captain Richard F. Titus. A native of New Rochelle, New York, Titus was a son and grandson of millers. However as a young man, Richard chose a seafaring career. He became a sea captain at the age of eighteen, sailing the West Indies and South American trade routes. By the age of 43, he gave up the sea and came to Battle Creek, Michigan, to live. Reared in the Quaker faith, it is thought that he chose this town because of its large Quaker population.
Following their marriage in Cleveland, the Titus' chose to build a new home on what was part of the Merritt family farm, selecting a lot fronting on Maple Street (now Capital Avenue NE). The expansive abode as a two-story Colonial style structure with a porch across the front and wing on the east side. A few years before Frances' death, her son remodeled the family home into a "modern" Victorian mansion, complete with a variety of gables, central tower and a profusion of porches.
The young couple had two sons; Richard, Jr., who died at the age of three, and Samuel John, born January 16, 1846. Reminiscing about those early years, Samuel described the rural setting of the village.
He could see the fields which once surrounded the home, for it was started in the middle of an oat field ... It was all a pretty rural scene where bob white and the morning [sic] dove mingled their calls, where the cows strolled off to pasture just across the road, a huge pasture which is now included in many city blocks.
Choice play spots are almost entirely effaced, but has a pleasant memory of the little lake, which is now Piper's Park. It once afforded the old swimming hole and paddling place for the barefoot boys who fished there for bullheads, of which there were plenty.
Merritt's wood afforded a splendid hunting ground and once Mr. Titus shot a black bear within this "forest." Trapping was also well- rewarded to the boys of those days when there was so much marsh and wood in the confines of Battle Creek.
In 1844, Titus joined Jonathan Hart, a fellow Quaker and early pioneer settler, in the mercantile trade. He dissolved this partnership in 1847 and was engaged in the oil and lard business with Henry Cantine.
Nine years later Titus bought Chester Buckley's interest in a local mill and began a partnership with Ellery Hicks. The firm, known as Titus & Hicks, was built on the mill race between East and West Canal streets, close to the present location of the Mill Race Park.
In 1855 the Battle Creek Daily Journal noted that the Titus & Hicks mill was :
the oldest in this place. Their business is principally gristing; the average amount which is 100 bushels per day. Last year 4,000 bushels of flour were made, and consumed, principally, here by the retail trade. This mill has two run of burr stones, thirty inches in diameter, capable of grinding eighteen bushels per hour. Titus & Hicks mill has the reputation of making first rate flour.
The business went through a number of alterations and improvements during its seventy-year existence. At the time of Richard's death, July 30, 1868, his son Samuel assumed ownership, along with William E. Hicks, the heir of Ellery Hicks. By 1924 the mill was experiencing financial difficulties, was placed in receivership and permanently closed its doors.
As her son grew older, Frances Titus became free to act on her social and religious convictions. Like most of the Quakers in the area, Titus was an ardent abolitionist. As historian Carleton Mabee noted:
While contemplative in style, [she] became radical enough in her point of view so that she often entertained at her house the strident antislavery speaker Parker Pillsbury when he visited Battle Creek, even though Pillsbury attacked the church for its support of slavery so fiercely that he was widely considered to be an "infidel."
Pillsbury was on the "spiritualist lecture circuit" with other abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison and Amy Post. After the Civil War, Pillsbury, like many of the former abolitionists, became a radical suffragist. He was a friend of Sojourner Truth's and appeared on the same platform with her on several occasions.
Titus was involved, with other local citizens like Henry Willis, in helping former slaves start new lives. Working with Josephine Griffing of the Freedman's Bureau in Washington, DC, Titus, in December 1866, was entrusted with "a party of eight freed people."
Her friend, Henry WIllis, was another recipient of twenty-eight freedman, looking after them until they were able to find jobs and housing. Later, stung by a newspaper charge that he had profited from his dealings with the freedmen, Willis indignantly replied:
I never yet charged or received a dime from any slave in return for what I did for them. The large number sent here by Mrs. Griffin [sic] was wholly unknown to me and was not advised by me. They were thrown upon my charity and Wm. Skinner, his wife, Frances Titus and myself fed them at our own expense.
Apparently the efforts of Titus, Willis and the others were appreciated and by early 1867, word got back to Washington that Battle Creek was a safe haven. During this period, Sojourner Truth was in Rochester, New York, trying to have freedmen resettled to that area. A letter from Griffing to Truth in April 1867 indicates that many of the freedmen refused to go to New York, preferring to be sent to familiar destinations, including Battle Creek :
As to sending you people, it is impossible to promise anything. We have been trying to get some people to go the last week, but all who go incline to go to Providence, Battle Creek, or some place where already several have gone.
Concerned about the education of the freedmen that were arriving in Battle Creek, Frances Titus started a school in 1867 to teach the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic. The classes were held on the second floor of the old city hall on Sundays and Friday evenings.
The pupils were eager to learn and it was a sight of much more than common interest to see strong, men, and grown up women, wrestling with the letters of the alphabet, and to see them so getting the better of them, that at last, to considerable of them, 'the whole world of print was opened.' Excellent results came to these ardent pupils, both in the pleasures which reading brings, and business and advantage as well, from the other things taught in this peculiar and interesting school.
At Christmas 1867, her grateful students presented Titus with a "handsome testimonial." The local newspaper reported the occasion:
With the assistance of others who had volunteered their services, Mrs. T. has, for some time past, been engaged in conducting a school on the Sabbath, and on Friday evenings, for the instruction of Colored people, most, if not all, of whom have formerly been slaves. This enterprise has thus far proved to be a great benefit to the class of persons, for whom it was undertaken, and at this time to which we refer, they left at the residence of Mrs. T. an elegant and expensive Album of the largest size, as an expression of their grateful acknowledgment of the generous and persevering effort made in their behalf.
At the next meeting of the school on Friday evening, Mrs. T. returned her thanks for their handsome gift, in a few appropriate and touching words, to which the reply was made, that it was but a small evidence of their appreciation of the deep interest which she and her fellow laborers were taking in their welfare and improvement.
Unfortunately, the names of her co-workers, and other details of this school, are left largely unrecorded. There is some indication that she may have continued the school for another year, but all evidence disappears by 1870.
During the time that she was teaching in the freedman school, Titus was beginning her work with Sojourner Truth. They first met in 1856 at the Progressive Friends meeting in Harmonia, where Truth was one of several speakers. 14 There is no documentary evidence that Titus and Truth worked together closely during the following decade, although they probably knew each other.
The first record of their collaboration is from the fall of 1867. Sojourner had just returned from Washington, DC, and bought a "barn" on College Street from William Merritt. She was slowly remodeling the small building into a home. With winter fast approaching, she asked Titus to write a letter requesting money from her friend, Eliza Leggett of Detroit.
She wished me to say to you if a loan or collections could be forwarded to her from Detroit, of $30, she will come out, hold meetings & sell her photographs & by such means refund the money after a few weeks. ... She is anxious to make a little home of her own where she can be comfortable & make her friends comfortable. We think with a little more assistance she will get a couple of rooms into suitable condition to live in - - the other parts can be finished at another time.
During the next few years, Truth was traveling extensively around the east coast and Kansas Although the two women kept in touch with each other, Titus concentrated her energies on the emerging suffrage movement in Michigan.
In January 1870 a woman's suffrage convention was held in the Hamblin Opera House:
The Call for this convention, is not only signed by "honorable women, not a few," such as Mrs. Frances Titus, Esther Titus, Elizabeth C. Merritt, Julia L. Merritt, Mrs. T.B. Skinner, Deborah Brown, etc.-- but also by a goodly number of the sterner sex -- among whom the wealth of our city is well represented by such men as Hamlin the banker, T.B. Skinner, Charles Merritt and many others.
At this gathering, Frances Titus was appointed to the finance committee and served as treasurer.
As a result of this meeting, the Michigan Suffrage Association was founded. Again Frances Titus was in a leadership position as a member of the executive committee.
The Battle Creek Women's Suffrage Association (BCWSA) was officially organized on March 7, 1870. Frances Titus filled her accustomed position as treasurer while ex-mayor Elijah Pendill was elected president. His wife, Mary, was also a member of the executive committee.
A proud moment for the new organization came when the "great noble-souled" Susan B. Anthony came to speak at the Opera House in April 1870. The famed national abolition and suffrage leader delivered an impassioned plea for women's equality, calling for "Work, Wages and the Ballot."
The ladies continued to labor. By 1872 a Radical Women's Suffrage Association was organized, presumably because the "establishment" leaders of the BCWSA were not sufficiently aggressive. However, during the next two years, a series of frustrating legal losses discouraged the suffrage movement nationwide.
There was a rebirth of activity in 1874 when a campaign to amend the state constitution was launched. Michigan was the second state in the union to conduct an equal suffrage campaign and interest in the issue was running high. Almost every issue of the local newspapers carried articles signed by "Truth," "Right," or "Justice" outlining the evils and virtues of equal suffrage for women.
In April a group of women met in the Presbyterian Church to reorganize the dormant suffrage society. Frances Titus was elected interim chairman and Ann Graves was chosen president of the group. The slate of delegates to the upcoming state convention was also chosen, including Frances Titus, Ann Graves and Mary Pendill.
Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke at the Lansing meeting, held on May 4-5, 1874. On Saturday, May 16, the people of Battle Creek also had the opportunity to hear this leading philosopher of the women's movement. The Hamblin Opera House was almost filled to capacity as Mrs. Stanton outlined the reasons for extending the vote to women. She argued that since women had all the burdens of citizenship, including taxation and legal responsibility for crimes, they should also have the benefits.
The women of Michigan [already] have the right to vote. It is for the men to say whether they shall be denied the exercise of that right."
The association sponsored a "Grand Mass Meeting and Picnic" on August 4. The afternoon activities at the fair grounds began with a "free basket dinner" at noon, followed by speeches. Interestingly, all of the speakers were men. Even though the women members spoke at association meetings, they were not yet prepared to address large public audiences. One of the orators was George Julian of Indiana who argued that property, race or amount of knowledge had already been removed as qualifications for voting. Therefore the only question left was "whether a woman is a human being or not." Fortunately for the female sex, Julian quickly came to the conclusion that women were, indeed, human and therefore should have the vote.
"Citizens of the town [provided] refreshments for visitors at their homes," before the evening session in the Opera House. Giles B. Stebbins from Detroit, 23 read a letter from Judge McKeen of the U. S. Supreme Court of Wyoming, which spoke favorably of the effects of enfranchising the women of the Territory of Wyoming. 24 Judge P. H. Emerson of Utah reiterated, and refuted, the popular reasons for opposing suffrage. The most common fear was that women would be taken away from their household duties, resulting in the destruction of the family. He pointed out that they were allowed to work in churches for charitable purposes and had not yet deserted hearth and home.
Even though the women, and their male supporters, worked untiringly in support of the constitutional amendment, they were resoundingly defeated. There was one small consolation for the Battle Creek suffragists. Statewide the vote for women was rebuffed by more than a three to one margin, but locally the margin was only two to one.
After this disheartening defeat, Titus re-established her close connection with Sojourner Truth. The year 1874 had been a difficult one for Truth. During the summer Sojourner returned from the east coast because her grandson Sammy, who was her traveling companion, fell ill with tuberculosis. While he was ill, Sojourner herself suffered a recurrence of the ulcers on her leg. She was so ill she could not walk for two months. As Sojourner later wrote to a friend:
The doctors gave me up, but I got a woman doctor who got me so I could walk, but ... my leg swelled and then I got a horse doctor who took the swelling out. ... And I am fast improving. ... It seems I am like a horse.
During this enforced confinement, Sojourner worked with Frances Titus on revising her biography. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth; A Bondswoman of Olden Time, Emancipated by the New York Legislature in the Early Part of the Present Century was originally published by Olive Gilbert in 1850. For this new edition Titus also planned to add a new section to the Narrative. Truth gave Titus her three scrapbooks, which she called her "Book of Life," containing autographs, letters and articles about her travels and speeches. Because she was illiterate, "Truth trust[ed] her scribe to make the selections" of appropriate materials from these scrapbooks.
Titus made significant changes in the text of the Narrative and altered some of the original documents used in the new section, the History of Her Labors and Correspondence, Drawn from her "Book of Life." According to historian Carleton Mabee:
Titus omitted Gilbert's passage that estimated sensibly when Truth was born, and inserted instead a dubious claim that Truth had been born twenty years earlier, thus contributing to the common legends about Truth's age.
Apparently, most of Titus's changes were designed to enhance Truth's public image. She left out derogatory remarks, changed the dialect passages into standard English and exaggerated public reaction to Truth's speeches. One example can be found in the well-known description of her meeting with president Lincoln in October 1864. Titus makes two significant alterations to the account which first appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard in December 1864. In the Standard's version, Lincoln was "compelled" to issue the Emancipation Proclamation by the actions of the South, while in the Narrative, he was given the "opportunity to do these things."
Lincoln's statement that he had heard of Truth many times after she said she never knew of Lincoln before he was president was pure invention.
Three years later, Titus published another edition of the Narrative, as announced in the local Battle Creek newspapers:
A new edition of "Sojourner Truth's Narrative and Book of Life" has been issued. It is a graphic volume containing a complete history of the labors and correspondence of the famous colored centenarian -- the Libyon [sic] Sibyl -- Sojourner Truth, who is the oldest lecturer in the world. The book is written by Mrs. Frances W. Titus, of Battle Creek. There has been considerable matter added to the revised book and it is really an interesting volume. It should be in the hands of every citizen.
This edition, published in Battle Creek, not Boston (as were all the previous editions), was paperbound and slightly larger in size. Mrs. Titus wrote the preface, replacing the 1875 essay by William Lloyd Garrison. Even the title was changed, to The Life of Sojourner Truth, the Libyan Sibyl, The Oldest Lecturer in the World! A Graphic Volume about the Colored Centenarian.
According to Truth, the 1875 edition of her Narrative "was got up to pay my debts and to help me in my old age." In addition to reimbursing Titus $350 for publication costs, Truth's debts included a second mortgage on her "little house," which she had taken to pay the medical bills for herself and her grandson Sammy, plus the expenses for his funeral. To sell the book, Sojourner and Titus planned to attend the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. Unfortunately, Truth was once again ill and they had to cancel the trip.
Despite her advancing age, which made traveling for extended periods more difficult, Truth was unwilling to stay at home. As the local newspaper commented, "Sojourner Truth doesn't like to sojourn long while idle, and so she contemplates starting out again as soon as the weather moderates on another humanitarian trip." 33 After her grandson and companion Sammy Banks died, Sojourner needed someone to assist her while she was fulfilling her speaking engagements around the country. Frances Titus accepted this role, also becoming Truth's business manager and corresponding secretary.
During 1877 she accompanied Sojourner on a speaking tour of western Michigan, including Grand Haven and Muskegon, selling her book and pictures of herself. The next year they left on an extended trip to New York, attending the Rochester national women's rights convention. In April 1879 Frances Titus wrote home, asking her son Samuel to send more copies of the Narrative for them to sell. Samuel's reply to his mother reflects how much she was missed during her ten-month absence.
Your letter from Rochester did not get her till noon today and was not in time to get the books off today but will send two dozen tomorrow noon they will reach Lockport Wednesday morning. You do not know how glad we all are that you are coming home before long. We were talking it over and thought about next week would bring you. The children talk of your coming every day, do not know as you will know them they have improved so. ... Kate & the children send love, they were pleased with the pictures anything from Grannie pleases them.
For more than a decade, Sojourner Truth had vigorously advocated the resettlement for the displaced freedmen who were crowding the nation's capital. In 1871 she had traveled to Kansas to find available land for the former slaves. By early 1879, the "Exodus" to Kansas had begun and Truth "felt such a desire" to witness this "for herself." In September, she and Titus left Battle Creek, expecting to remain in Kansas for only a month. They ended up staying until December to help the confused emigrants find food and shelter as they arrived.
When she returned home, Frances Titus solicited food and supplies for the destitute refugees She placed a notice in the Nightly Moon in February 1880 announcing that:
Packages for the suffering colored people in Kansas can be left at Thompson's store. Most anything will be acceptable -- all kinds of vegetables, beans, wheat, seeds or anything that the poor people can use. Donations will be thankfully received by Mrs. F. Titus, who will ship to Kansas by Wednesday the 25th.
Two days later, another article reminded citizens that:
Mrs. Frances Titus and others interested in aiding the negro exodusters to Kansas are collecting a box of groceries to send to them. Each family is asked to contribute a pound of something and the donations can be left either at the home of Mrs. Titus or at Mayor Thompson's store.
Frances Titus had developed an intense personal interest in the fate of the refugees and wished to return to Kansas to assist the resettlement. However, Sojourner Truth's health was failing and she needed her help more than ever. During this period, Titus "managed [Truth's] correspondence, and [saw] to her physical wants with a faithfulness which challenges admiration."
The ulcers on her legs returned and by early fall she was confined to her home. She was cared for by her daughters, Diana and Elizabeth, as well as by Frances Titus. The doctors from the Battle Creek Sanitarium, including Dr. Kellogg himself, treated her condition. 39 On November 17, 1883, a local newspaper noted:
Sojourner Truth is very sick, Dr. Kellogg is attending her and says the disease is an internal ulcer. She would like to have all her friends who desire to assist her purchase her photos ... for as she quaintly says, she "sells the shadow to support the substance."
Newspaper bulletins kept the public aware of Sojourner's condition. Two days before she died, the report was that:
she has been confined for about six weeks and all hope is now given up of restoration to health ... the Sanitarium doctors visit her daily and she has many comforts in her last days. The house in which she lives is her own property, but her income is wholly from the sale of her books and pictures, which can be obtained of Mrs. Frances Titus by addressing her.
Sojourner Truth died two days later, on November 26, 1883. Her death was widely reported and tributes were received from public figures around the country. However, her hometown newspapers were not to be outdone in rhetoric in marking her passing:
No longer a literal "sojourner" on this earthly sphere in bodily form, her name will still remain engraven upon the grateful memory of the millions of her countrymen for whose freedom and welfare she has labored, and upon the monument of human remembrance which can never perish.
As Sojourner had requested, the funeral service was held at the Congregational Church in downtown Battle Creek. The ceremony was one of the biggest in the city's history.At two o'clock P.M., November 28, some of Sojourner's near friends met at her house, No. 10 College Street. After a short interval, the procession formed, and moved to the ... church, on Main St. where nearly one thousand people had assembled. Some of the prominent citizens of Battle Creek acted as pall-bearers. The casket was placed in the vestibule of the church and the lid removed. [She was] robed for the grave in black nun's veiling, with white muslin cap and folded kerchief."
The Rev. Reed Stuart presided and her "anti-slavery friend" from Detroit, Giles Stebbins, also spoke "of the rare qualities of head and heart which he knew her to possess." 44
In the years after Sojourner's death, Frances Titus sought to place a tombstone on Sojourner's grave. She made a public appeal for funds and collected about $44, which was put towards a marker erected in 1890 by Shafer Brothers Marble Works.
In 1884 she also issued a posthumous edition of the Narrative which included a memorial chapter, entitled In Memoriam, Sojourner Truth, Born, In Ulster County, State of New York, Sometime in the Eighteenth Century. Died, in the City of Battle Creek, Michigan, November 26, 1883. The chapter included obituaries, tributes and poetry which Titus received from around the country. On the last page, Titus printed Sojourner's favorite song, "We are going home."
Continuing in her efforts to preserve Sojourner's memory, in 1892 Titus engaged Franklin C. Courter of nearby Albion College to paint a picture of the meeting between Truth and Abraham Lincoln. Titus paid the artist a total of $100, in seven installments between February and December 1893. She had "cabinet size" (4 x 6 inches) copies made by local photographer, Frank Perry, which she sold for twenty-five cents each.
This painting has become one of the most familiar images of Sojourner Truth that we know today. But the painting was almost lost to posterity.
In 1893 the Sojourner Truth painting occupied a prominent position in the Michigan building at the Chicago World's fair or Columbian exposition. Thousands came to see it and many wanted to buy it, but it was not for sale. Later the picture came back to Battle Creek and was hung in the north parlor of the Sanitarium, where it remained until flames destroyed that great building [in 1902].
Thankfully, Frank Perry's photograph remained.
In the winter of 1893, Frances Titus's health began to fail. She developed "some form of Bright's disease" which made her an invalid for many months before her death on April 21, 1894. Despite the suffering caused by the progressive nature of the disease, the newspaper reported that:
it is consoling to know that she received all the aids and comforts that ample means and devoted love could bring and that those elements of personal character which made her life a blessing for so many others, was a source of cheerful courage and uncomplaining patience during her long waiting for the end.Her funeral was held at her home, 113 Maple Street, 49 and was "largely attended by her old friends and neighbors." The Rev. Reed Stuart, who had conducted Sojourner Truth's service, also delivered the eulogy for Frances Titus. She was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.
Throughout her life, Frances Titus worked for the welfare of others, helping those in need, trying to reform social injustice when she found it. In the florid language of the period, this memorial tribute sums up her outlook on life.
At night, before retiring to rest, if a review of the day, ... showed an unusual number of demands for help, and none sent empty away; that was one of her good days, one which she felt had been filled with life's richest blessings, and she lay down to sleep with a grateful heart for the services she had been privileged to render, for she in very deed believed, that it was more blessed to give than to receive. This was no mere episode in the life of Mrs. Titus, but was the tone and daily habit of it, constant as the rising and setting of the sun.