Sojourner Truth Tour
Self Guided Sojourner Truth Life Community Ride
Please Read Note:
*Before proceeding to the next stop on your tour, please enter the address of the stop into your gps.
*Please be respectful of private property while on your tour. Know that while the homeowners have given us permission to include them on this tour, there is no access to the property. Please do not use their driveways to turn around..
*In order to drive the full ‘Freedom Trail’, Popletown Road will need to be clear. If there is snow on the ground, Popletown Road will likely be impassable due to the steep decline on the north side. In case of inclement weather please follow the alternate directions on the online map.
Welcome to the Tour
Stop 1 - Sojourner Truth Memorial, Port Ewen
172 Broadway, Port Ewen, New York
- Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797, an enslaved child from birth whose parents were James and Elizabeth Baumfree. She was the youngest of eleven or twelve children, every one of whom were sold away from their parents and each other. All were enslaved by Colonel Hardenburgh in Rifton.
- This statue honors Sojourner Truth by depicting her strength and her experience as a child enduring the brutality of slavery.
- In 2013 the Town of Esopus unveiled the statue, created by artist Trina Green. At the time it was the first statue depicting an enslaved child at work. The Esopus local government and then Ulster County historian, Anne Gordon, were instrumental in funding and creating this small park, memorial, and sculpture.
- The artist purposefully created an approachable statue, depicting young Isabella at age 12 or 13. The statue is positioned so that children can stand next to her, see and feel the scars on her back, and get a sense of her bearing, which conveys something of the woman she is to become.
- The statue also helps people understand that slavery was a fact of life not just in the South but in parts of the North, like New York, well into the 1800s.
- Even though New York finally ended this evil institution in 1827, the children of enslaved people (including Isabella’s own daughters) could still be held for years to come.
- As we look at her statue we can reflect on her dignity and bravery and marvel at her ability to persevere.
From a time much later in her life in 1863, Battle Creek MI she would say:
“Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? .... Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?"
Stop 2 - Jug Tavern, Port Ewen
1 River Road, Port Ewen, New York (No Access)
- At age 9, Isabella was sold away from her parents to a Rondout shopowner, John Neely. Isabella spoke only Dutch; the Neely’s spoke only English. Isabella was severely beaten for not understanding the orders she was given, and she carried the scars from these beatings her whole life.
- Isabella prayed continuously for respite from this torture and felt that her prayers were answered at age 11, when she was sold to Martinus Shryver, a fisherman and a farmer, and it is in this dwelling that he and his wife operated the Jug Tavern.
- In her memoir, the Narrative, Sojourner Truth portrays the Shryver’s as crude people but so much kinder to her than the Neely’s. She experienced more freedom than before, if that can be said. We can imagine her doing chores out back of this house, walking over the hill to the Hudson River to get fish or down to the Strand in the Rondout for molasses; hoeing corn out in the field; and picking herbs in the woods. This time in her life she recalls (Narrative) as a “wild, out-of-door kind of life”.
- Isabella’s mother taught her to be honest, obey her master, and say the Lord’s Prayer. On summer evenings her mother would sit outdoors and tell her that God “lives in the sky,” and that “when you are beaten... or fall into any trouble, you must ask help of Him, and He will always hear and help you” (Narrative)
- Isabella clung to the belief in God that her mother had given her, and developed the habit of talking to God, pouring out her grief to Him. She believed that God would not hear her unless she spoke to Him aloud, and that the louder she spoke the more likely He was to hear her.
- From Jug Tavern, the child Isabella was sold one final time at age 13 to John Dumont of West Park, where she was enslaved until age 29. She did not learn to read or write, and did not attend school as a child, or go to church until she was an adult (Methodist Church in Kingston). Yet she had her own strong relationship with God from early on and developed a strong inner spirit, as influenced by her mother.
- As you visit the places on this tour keep in mind how broken and disrupted her childhood experience was and how much of it was alone, away from her parents.
Stop 3 - Klyne Esopus Museum
764 Route 9W, Ulster Park, New York
- Built in 1827 this is the Protestant church that many in the community including John Dumont (#4 on the map where Isabella was enslaved from 1810-1826) and his family attended, bringing with them two of Isabella’s daughters, who remained enslaved long after Isabella freed herself in 1826.
- It is important to note that the original Protestant church was constructed in 1791 and stood approximately 1000 feet to the north of the current building. It was demolished in 1827 upon completion of this brick building, and even more important to note that it was the labor of enslaved people who built it. The pulpit from the original structure is the only thing remaining, which is currently housed inside the museum.
- Although the young woman Isabella did not attend church here, her own daughters attended church with the Dumont’s while still enslaved even years after Isabella claimed her own freedom and New York abolished slavery.
- As we stand on the lawn to the left of the church, and look out across this valley to Shaupeneak Ridge, we can get a great view of the mountain Isabella climbed in her walk to freedom. As we follow her footsteps on these local roads, many of which would have been the same paths she took, we can honor Sojourner Truth’s journey by imagining what it was like to walk here as a barefoot young girl enslaved to work for a family not her own… How terrifying and exhilarating it might have been to walk away as a young woman…What convictions helped her persist? The young adult Isabella was literally walking into the unknown. How many enslaved people had the courage to leave what they knew to find a better way? Her mission was to be free, in a life guided by God.
Stop 4 - Vicinity of Dumont Farm West Park (starting point for walk to freedom)
West Park Post Office on the corner of 9W & Floyd Ackert Road, Ulster Park, New York (exact location not visible)
- Isabella was enslaved to the Dumont Farm and the family who ran it, from 1810 to 1826.
- It is here that she bears five children (four survive to adulthood) but not to Robert, the man she loved…to Tom, an older man who was also enslaved to the Dumonts. This relationship appears to have been arranged and although she and Tom got along fine, he was older and had been previously married multiple times and his wives subsequently sold away from the farm. But Isabella had first fallen in love with Robert who was enslaved to a nearby farm. Robert tried to visit Isabella secretly because his enslavers forbade relations between farms (because their children would become property and that would be a gain for Isabella’s enslavers but not for Robert’s enslavers) Robert was soon found out and beaten so badly he never returned. He died not long after.
Regarding her Children; (Narrative)
Isabella made much of the injury she felt slavery had done to her, not only to herself directly but also indirectly though her relationship with her children. In one speech, she said that whites had “robbed me, took all my best days from me, took my chill’ed from me” In another speech, she said in poignant words, that as a slave she had never owned any of her own children. “I ... Never could take any one of den up and say, ‘my child’ ... unless it was when no one could see me... I did not know how dear to me was my posterity, I was so beclouded and crushed: If I had know it would have been “more than de mine could bear... I’se been robbed of all my affection for my husband and for my children”
- By all accounts Isabella had a reputation for being honest and hardworking. Yet, after 16 years toiling at the Dumont farm and having been promised her freedom in advance of New York’s 1827 decision to free slaves, Dumont goes back on his promise and does not grant her freedom.
- But this is the last straw for Isabella. She sets her mind to leaving but first decides it fair that she finish the 100 pounds of wool she was spinning…16 years enslaved to this farm and she decides it fair that she finishes out the work!
- Imagine what determination it would take to leave, when so many enslaved people around her including her husband, had had their spirits broken.
- She did not have a plan and only a general direction to follow but believed that God was guiding her.
- As we drive Floyd Ackert Road we can imagine her walking as a grown woman in the early morning with her infant daughter Sofia on her hip and carrying few possessions. She walked for miles risking the rural village roads, emboldened by a faith that God would protect her.
Walk to Freedom (Excerpted from the Narrative)
The question in her mind, and one not easily solved, now was, 'How can I get away?' So, as was her usual custom, she 'told God she was afraid to go in the night, and in the day every body would see her.' At length, the thought came to her that she could leave just before the day dawned, and get out of the neighborhood where she was known before the people were much astir. 'Yes,' said she, fervently, 'that's a good thought! Thank you, God, for that thought!' So, receiving it as coming direct from God, she acted upon it, and one fine morning, a little before day-break, she might have been seen stepping stealthily away from the rear of Master Dumont's house, her infant on one arm and her wardrobe on the other; the bulk and weight of which, probably, she never found so convenient as on the present occasion, a cotton handkerchief containing both her clothes and her provisions.
Stop 5 - Quaker Levi Rowe’s House
572 Old Post Road, Esopus, New York
- With her infant daughter Sophia, Isabella walks barefoot the 8 miles down Floyd Ackert Road and over Popletown Road, eventually finding refuge with the Van Wagenen Family. She stops first at the home of Quaker Levi Rowe who happened to be on his deathbed but directs his wife to send her to the Van Wagenen’s with instructions on how to arrive.
This piece excerpted from the Narrative is especially relevant here-
As she gained the summit of a high hill, a considerable distance from her master's, the sun offended her by coming forth in all his pristine splendor. She thought it never was so light before; indeed, she thought it much too light. She stopped to look about her, and ascertain if her pursuers were yet in sight. No one appeared, and, for the first time, the question came up for settlement, 'Where, and to whom, shall I go?' In all her thoughts of getting away, she had not once asked herself whither she should direct her steps. She sat down, fed her infant, and again turning her thoughts to God, her only help, she prayed him to direct her to some safe asylum. And soon it occurred to her, that there was a man living somewhere in the direction she had been pursuing, by the name of Levi Rowe, whom she had known, and who, she thought, would be likely to befriend her. She accordingly pursued her way to his house, where she found him ready to entertain and assist her, though he was then on his death-bed. He bade her partake of the hospitalities of his house, said he knew of two good places where she might get in, and requested his wife to show her where they were to be found. As soon as she came in sight of the first house, she recollected having seen it and its inhabitants before, and instantly exclaimed, 'That's the place for me; I shall stop there.' She went there, and found the good people of the house, Mr. and Mrs. Van Wagener, absent, but was kindly received and hospitably entertained by their excellent mother, till the return of her children. When they arrived, she made her case known to them. They listened to her story, assuring her they never turned the needy away, and willingly gave her employment.
Stop 6 - Shaupeneak and the recently renamed Sojourner Truth Trails
143 Popletown Road, Esopus, New York (Scenic Hudson)
- As we reach the ‘summit of the high hill’ Sojourner spoke about, we are fortunate for the work Scenic Hudson has done to preserve this land. Because of it we can walk through these woods with more or less the same awareness of the land, without the distraction of modern structures, that Isabella may have had as she walked with young Sophia in her arms still uncertain of her destination.
- Scenic Hudson recently rededicated some of the trails here at Shaupeneak Ridge and we encourage you to take a walk the trails with a Scenic Hudson map or peruse their website for a link to the rededication blessing ceremony and more info: https://www.scenichudson.org/viewfinder/honoring-sojourner-truth
Stop 7 - Refuge with Van Wagenen Family at 11 Van Wagner Road
11 Van Wagner Road, Ulster Park, New York
- When she finds the Van Wagenen home she realizes she’s known the family for years and since they are against slavery they welcome her to stay.
- Not long after John Dumont comes looking for her and says, “Bell, you’ve run away from me and you must come back". To which she replied 'No, I did not run away; I walked away by day-light, and all because you had promised me a year of my time.' 'No, I won't go back with you.'
- The Van Wagenens did not believe in slavery but paid Dumont $20 for Belle and $5 for Sophia to satisfy Dumont and he leaves without her.
- She remains there for a few months experiencing barely a moment of calm before learning that her youngest son Peter was sold illegally across state lines.
- Isabella decides to fight to have her son returned, with the encouragement of the Van Wagenen’s and support of the nearby Quaker community. It is from this home on what is now Van Wagner Road that she walks the 6 miles to uptown Kingston to ask that her case be heard, a walk that she must repeat many times before succeeding.
- The young Isabella was once again literally walking into the unknown, i.e., how many recently freed people, never mind women, fought a court case and won??
Stop 8 - Ulster County Courthouse/Case for Peter - Wall Street Kingston
285 Wall Street, Kingston, New York
- We are here to understand how Sojourner Truth, once an enslaved woman and now a newly freed person (of her own doing), brought a case to court and won.
- When Isabella learns that a man from a local family, Solomon Gedney, sold her son Peter to a relative, and that man then illegally took her son to Alabama, she was furious. Her faith that God would hear her prayer pushed Isabella to take action, and she set out for Kingston by foot to have her complaint heard.
- She arrives here at this very courthouse, and a man inside directs her to the place where she can take legal action.
- After much persistence and prayer, she obtains a writ for the accused to pay a fine or return 5-year-old Peter, due to a state law which forbade the selling of slaves over state lines. During those long months between 1827 and 1828, while she waited for her son’s return, Isabella walked many times back and forth the approximate six miles from the Van Wagenen’s home to uptown Kingston, before moving uptown and taking work as a domestic.
Excerpt from the Narrative of Sojourner Truth:
And she has not a particle of doubt, that God heard her, and especially disposed the hearts of thoughtless clerks, eminent lawyers, and grave judges and others–between whom and herself there seemed to her almost an infinite remove–to listen to her suit with patient and respectful attention, backing it up with all needed aid. The sense of her nothingness in the eyes of those with whom she contended for her rights, sometimes fell on her like a heavy weight, which nothing but her unwavering confidence in an arm which she believed to be stronger than all others combined could have raised from her sinking spirit.
'Oh! how little did I feel,' she repeated, with a powerful emphasis. 'Neither would you wonder, if you could have seen me, in my ignorance and destitution, trotting about the streets, meanly clad, bare-headed, and barefooted! Oh, God only could have made such people hear me; and he did it in answer to my prayers.'
And this perfect trust, based on the rock of Deity, was a soul-protecting fortress, which, raising her above the battlements of fear, and shielding her from the machinations of the enemy, impelled her onward in the struggle, till the foe was vanquished, and the victory gained.
No,' answered Bell, 'I have no money, but God has enough, or what's better! And I'll have my child again.' These words were pronounced in the most slow, solemn, and determined measure and manner. And in speaking of it, she says,
'Oh my God! I know'd I'd have him agin. I was sure God would help me to get him. Why, I felt so tall within–I felt as if the power of a nation was with me!’
- Winning her son back gave her confidence that the courts (law) were just, a belief she held and relied on throughout her life. It also reinforced her faith that God was looking out for her, and fundamentally she believed it was God who had recovered her son.
- When Peter is finally returned he is badly scarred from head to foot, from being severely beaten. Some welts on his back were as thick as fingers. This left Peter with deep emotional as well as physical scars, exemplifying the brutality that slavery exacted on family bonds.
- After recovering Peter, she decides to leave Ulster County, home to the first three decades of her incredible life, taking him with her to New York City to follow her calling…
- This court case she undertook as a young woman shows the persistence with which she pursued justice -a persistence she did not waver from for the rest of her long and inspiring life. (She will be involved in two more cases in her lifetime both of which are decided in her favor)
“We have all been thrown down so low that nobody thought we’d ever get up again; but we have been long enough trodden now; we will come up again, and now I am here.”
― Sojourner Truth The Narrative of Sojourner Truth
Stop 9 - St James United Methodist Church Pearl Street, Kingston
35 Pearl Street, Kingston, New York
- With the encouragement of the Quakers she walks back and forth the 6 miles to the courthouse in Kingston, asking that her case be heard. While awaiting resolution on her son’s case, she moves to Kingston and takes work as a domestic.
- Although she had always had a relationship with God, it is during this time in her life that she attends church for the first time. The (St James United) Methodist church on Pearl and Fair streets, was one of few that allowed black people to attend. The original structure was more modest then, but the site is the same.
- She said she “liked the Quakers but they would not let her sing so she joined the Methodists”
- It was here, and this experience with the church and scripture, that led toward her conviction that she could be an instrument of God.
- It led her, regardless of her race, class, gender or education, toward feeling empowered to ‘perfect’ herself and the world. Isabella was going through profound alterations in her life. By walking away from her enslaver, being legally freed, going to court to recover her son, being converted, and attending church for the first time, she was opening herself to new ways of looking at herself and the world. (Mabee)
- This new experience in the church only confirmed her convictions, giving her strength and inspiration in her move to NYC and a life which continued to be guided by God
Stop 10 - Pronkstilleven Mural -Fair Street, Kingston
289 Fair Street, Kingston, New York
- In 2015 O+ Festival artist Gaia, painted ‘Pronkstilleven’ which references the Dutch word for an ornate, still life. It is the foreground for the portraits of neoclassicist painter John Vanderlyn and abolitionist/women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. Both born in Ulster County in roughly the same period; he a very well-educated white painter, whose work hangs in the Senate House, and who traveled abroad but died penniless in Kingston, juxtaposed with Sojourner Truth who was born an enslaved child, freed herself as a young woman and spent her entire life traveling the country in the service of others.
- Truth made a living as a public speaker, successfully brought cases to court, marched and performed sit-ins for reform causes, petitioned Congress, met with presidents, and tried to vote in the 1872 election. She also broadened the definition of “reformer” beyond the white, educated, middle-class women who primarily made up the women’s movement. In her life and person, Sojourner Truth combined the causes of abolition, racial equality, and women’s rights, and was a significant advocate for social justice....Always in relation to her understanding of the divine.
Stop 11 - Ain’t I Woman Mural -Franklin Street, Kingston
289 Fair Street, Kingston, New York
- Sojourner Truth had electrified audiences at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio with her “Ain’t I Woman Speech”. O+ Festival Mural 2015 by Jetsonarama (Chip Thomas) and Jess X Snow, wanted to honor Truth’s contribution to women’s rights movement and her role as a humanitarian by asking African-American female poets to share poems pertaining to their experience as African-American women. Poets Mahogany Browne “Black Girl Magic” and Tai Freedom Ford are depicted with their poems embedded in each portrait.
Women’s Rights Quotes
1867, New York: “We want to carry the point to one particular thing, and that is woman’s rights, for nobody has any business with a right that belongs to her. I can make use of my own right. I want the same use of the same right. Do you want it? Then get it. If men had not taken something that did not belong to them they would not fear”.
1867, New York: “There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights (they received their rights after the Civil War), 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.”
Stop 12 - Approximate Rondout location of John Neely’s home where young Isabella was enslaved
(No visible building in this location)
- At this location, young Isabella was brutally treated from age 9-10 years old.
Stop 13 - Birthplace of Isabella Baumfree (Not Visible)
Route 213, Rifton, New York
- Approximate Rifton location where Isabella Baumfree was born enslaved to Colonel Hardenburgh. It was from here that she was auctioned to John Neely of the Rondout. She was just 9 years old and together with a flock of sheep she was auctioned for $100...Away from her mother and father and younger brother Peter, her only remaining younger sibling, for whom she later names her only surviving son, Peter.
- Although there is no visible building to be seen here at the intersection of Route 213 and Carney Road there is a dedicated historical marker.