1797, Sojourner Truth, Birth


1797, Sojourner Truth, Birth
Event Description
Sojourner Truth was born into bondage in Swartekill (near present-day Rifton), a hamlet in Hurley, Ulster County, New York. Her birth name was Isabella. Her parents were James and Betsy Baumfree, who were enslaved to Johannes Hardenbergh Jr. (1729-1799). Following New York law, Isabella inherited her mother's condition of unfreedom and was at the time of her birth deemed a slave of Johannes Hardenbergh Jr.


The exact date of her birth is not known. Many secondary sources list her approximate year of birth as 1797. Comparing her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth (narrated to Olive Gilbert and first published in 1850), with archival sources that document the events of her childhood suggests that she may have been born in 1798 or in the first half of 1799.


"THE subject of this biography, Sojourner Truth, as she now calls herself, but whose name originally was Isabella, was the daughter of James and Betsey, slaves of one Col. Ardinburgh, Hurley, Ulster County, N. Y. Sojourner does not know in what year she was born, but knows she was liberated under the act of 1817, which freed all slaves who were forty years old and upward. Ten thousand slaves were then set at liberty. Those under forty years of age were retained in servitude ten years longer, when all were emancipated." (Narrative of Sojourner Truth, p. 13)

In 1799, New York State began to gradually abolish slavery. The Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery went into effect on July 4, 1799. The law stipulated that a daughter born to an enslaved mother after July 4, 1799, would not inherit the condition of permanent enslavement, but rather would become free after serving her mother's master for 25 years (sons had to serve for 28 years before they could become free). Evidently, Sojourner Truth did not benefit from this law. We know Truth inherited her mother's condition of enslavement, and thus we must assume that Truth was born before July 4, 1799. As Truth's narrative recalls, she expected to gain freedom under the Gradual Emancipation Law of 1817, which stipulated that enslaved individuals born before July 4, 1799, would be emancipated on July 4, 1827.

"Of her first master, she can give no account, as she must have been a mere infant when he died; and she with her parents and some ten or twelve other fellow human chattels, became the legal property of his son, Charles Ardinburgh." (Narrative of Sojourner Truth, p. 13)

Truth recounted that she was an infant when Johannes Hardenbergh Jr. passed away. Johannes Hardenbergh Jr. passed away in 1799.

"Isabella and Peter, her youngest brother, remained, with their parents, the legal property of Charles Ardinburgh till his decease, which took place when Isabella was near nine years old." (Narrative of Sojourner Truth, p. 17)

"At this memorable time, Isabella was struck off, for the sum of one hundred dollars, to one John Nealy, of Ulster County, New York; and she has an impression that in this sale she was connected with a lot of sheep. She was now nine years of age, and her trials in life may be dated from this period. She says, with emphasis, 'Now the war begun.'" (Narrative of Sojourner Truth, p. 26)

Truth recalled being sold at auction at the age of 9, a sale that was precipitated by the death of her second enslaver Charles Hardenbergh. This is one of the most vivid memories of her childhood. Charles Hardenbergh died in early 1808.
Event Type
Life event: Birth
Action Status
1797 – 1799
Date Certainty
Swartekill, NY
Primary Participant
Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883)
Freedom Status
Enslaver of Primary Event Participant
Johannes Hardenbergh Jr. (1729-1799)
Narrative of Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth. Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Edited by Olive Gilbert. Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald Office, 1884.
Record Contributor
Jesse Bayker