Sojourner Truth

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12271

If you could change your name, what would you choose? What would if reflect? Learn about the brave slave Isabella Baumfree and how she used the system against the "system" to help abolish slavery!


United States

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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What former slave was invited to the White House to share her story of slavery with President Abraham Lincoln?

Throughout this Famous Abolitionists series, found under Related Lessons in the right-hand sidebar, you have been learning about some of the most famous people who worked to end slavery in the United States.

So far, you have learned about Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Each of these former slaves worked to help other slaves escape to freedom, but they used entirely different methods to advocate for the cause of freedom. How did Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass help enslaved people? Share your response with your teacher or parent.

In this lesson, you will learn about another former slave turned abolitionist, Sojourner Truth. As you read and watch the information in this section, be sure to take notes. Your notes will help you with the abolitionist book project you have been working on.

Sojourner Truth

Image by Randall Studio from the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Like the other former slaves you have learned about in this series, no birth records were kept for Sojourner Truth. Historians believe she was born around 1797 on a farm in New York. At that time, New York was still a slave state. It did not officially become a free state until 1827. Her birth name was Isabella Baumfree. From the time Truth was born until the time she escaped from slavery, around the age of 30, she was sold four times to different farm-owning families.

The first plantation Truth lived on was a Dutch plantation, and the owner only spoke Dutch. Therefore, Truth only spoke Dutch. When she was sold to her second family, around the age of nine, the new plantation owner beat her for not knowing how to speak English and follow his directions. Eventually, Truth learned to speak English, making her fluent in two languages. At one point, Truth fell in love with another slave at a neighboring plantation. She wanted to marry him, but her plantation owner forbid it. Instead, he forced her to marry a slave from his plantation. The plantation owner wanted her to have children with one of his slaves because, according to the law, their children would belong to the plantation owner.

When Truth was about 30 years old, her plantation owner told her that he would let her go free in one year because she was such a hard worker. A year passed, and the plantation owner changed his mind. He would not let her go free. Truth was so upset that she decided to escape. One evening, she walked to the house of some neighbors nearby. These neighbors opposed slavery and allowed Truth to stay with them. When Truth’s plantation owner found out, he visited the house and demanded that they give Truth back to him. Not wanting to return Truth to a life of slavery, they offered to purchase her. They paid the plantation owner $20. Then, they gave Truth her freedom.

After escaping from slavery, she changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth. Truth was happy to be free, but she worried about her children. She had left four children behind at the plantation, and she wanted them to be free, too. At one point, one of her sons was sold to a plantation in Alabama. At that time, it was illegal to sell slaves to people in other states. In order to have her son near her again, Truth took the plantation owner to court. It was rare for an African American or a woman to challenge a white man in a court of law, but Truth won the case. Her son was returned to New York and was close to her again. Eventually, in 1828, slavery was outlawed in New York, and all of her children were also made free.

Truth not only wanted her children to be free, but she also wanted all people to be free. She began to travel the country and shared her story about living in slavery. Even though she had not received an education, she was an excellent speaker and people were amazed by the stories she would tell. For some, it was the first insight they had been given into what slavery was really like. Her speeches helped many realize that slavery was wrong.

During the Civil War, Truth helped the Union Army. She helped recruit African-American soldiers and secured food and clothing for African-American regiments. Truth began to earn a reputation as a distinguished abolitionist and was even invited to the White House, where she shared her story with President Abraham Lincoln.

After the war, Truth continued to travel the country to speak about her life and experiences. She not only talked about the rights of African Americans, but also discussed the importance of women’s rights. She died in 1883 at the age of 86.

Now that you have had the opportunity to read about Sojourner Truth, watch Sojourner Truth- Mini Biography from Biography to see some images from her life. As you watch the video, continue taking notes. After you finish watching the video, use your notes to discuss the following questions with your teacher or parent:

  • What makes Sojourner Truth an abolitionist?
  • Why do you think Truth changed her name?
  • Which of Truth’s accomplishments are you most impressed by?
  • How did Truth’s work help end slavery in the United States?

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When you are finished discussing the questions, move on to the Got It? section to research more about the life and legacy of Sojourner Truth. Be sure to keep your notes nearby because you will be able to use them to help you with your research.

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