Today is set aside by the Lutheran Church in its calendar of saints to honor Harriet Tubman (born Araminta “Minty” Ross), who died on this date in 1913, and Sojourner Truth (born Isabella (“Bell” or “Belle”) Baumfree) – noted anti-slavery activists. It is also known as Harriet Tubman Day, a U.S. federal holiday that is mandated to be observed nationally, but with special observances locally in the states of New York and Maryland. In light of Ben Carson’s recent remarks claiming that slaves were (involuntary) immigrants with dreams of a prosperous future, I feel the need on this date to forcefully correct this serious, but deliberate, misstatement of the truth about slavery and its ongoing repercussions throughout the U.S.
Harriet Tubman (c. 1822 – 1913) was an abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made around thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved families and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped abolitionist John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era was an active participant in the struggle for women’s suffrage.
Tubman was born a slave in Dorchester County, Maryland, who was beaten and whipped by her various masters as a child. As a child in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman was beaten by masters to whom she was hired out. One day, the adolescent Tubman was sent to a dry-goods store for supplies. There, she encountered a slave owned by another family, who had left the fields without permission. His overseer, furious, demanded that she help restrain him. She refused, and as he ran away, the overseer threw a two-pound weight at him. He struck her instead, which she said “broke my skull”. She later explained her belief that her hair – which “had never been combed and … stood out like a bushel basket” – might have saved her life. Bleeding and unconscious, she was returned to her owner’s house and laid on the seat of a loom, where she remained without medical care for two days. She was sent back into the fields, “with blood and sweat rolling down my face until I couldn’t see”. Her boss said she was “not worth a sixpence” and returned her to her former owner, who tried unsuccessfully to sell her. She began having seizures and would seemingly fall unconscious, although she claimed to be aware of her surroundings while appearing to be asleep. These episodes were alarming to her family, who were unable to wake her when she fell asleep suddenly and without warning. This condition remained with her for the rest of her life. She was a devout Christian and throughout her life experienced strange visions and vivid dreams, which she ascribed to premonitions from God.
In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, then immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives with her out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Traveling by night and in extreme secrecy, Tubman (or “Moses”, as she was called) “never lost a passenger”. After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, she helped guide fugitives farther north into British North America, and helped newly freed slaves find work.
When the Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. Tubman was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war; she guided the raid at Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 slaves. After the war, she retired to the family home on property she had purchased in 1859 in Auburn, New York, where she cared for her aging parents. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement until illness overtook her and she had to be admitted to a home for elderly African Americans that she had helped to establish years earlier. After she died in 1913, she became an icon of American courage and freedom. On April 20, 2016, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a plan for Tubman to replace Andrew Jackson as the portrait gracing the $20 bill.
Sojourner Truth (c. 1797 – 1883) was born into slavery in Rifton, Ulster County, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, in 1828 she became the first Black woman to win such a case against a White man. She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became convinced that God has called her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying the hope that was in her.” Her best-known speech was delivered extemporaneously, in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. The speech became widely known during the Civil War by the title “Ain’t I a Woman?,” but the written version is a variation of the original speech re-written by someone else using a stereotypical Southern dialect. Sojourner Truth was from New York and grew up speaking Dutch as her first language. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army. After the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves.
Truth was one of the ten or twelve children born to James and Elizabeth Baumfree (or Bomefree). Colonel Hardenbergh bought James and Elizabeth Baumfree from slave traders and kept their family at his estate in a big hilly area called by the Dutch name Swartekill (just north of present-day Rifton), in the town of Esopus, New York, 95 miles (153 km) north of New York City. Charles Hardenbergh inherited his father’s estate and continued to enslave people as a part of that estate’s property.
When Charles Hardenbergh died in 1806, nine-year-old Truth (known as Belle), was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100 to John Neely, near Kingston, New York. Until that time, Truth spoke only Dutch. She later described Neely as cruel and harsh, relating how he beat her daily and once even with a bundle of rods. Neely sold her in 1808, for $105, to Martinus Schryver of Port Ewen, a tavern keeper, who owned her for eighteen months. Schryver sold her in 1810 to John Dumont of West Park, New York. Although this fourth owner was kindly disposed toward her, considerable tension existed between Truth and Dumont’s second wife, Elizabeth Waring Dumont, who harassed her and made her life difficult.
Around 1815, Truth met and fell in love with a slave named Robert from a neighboring farm. Robert’s owner (Charles Catton, Jr., a landscape painter) forbade their relationship; he did not want the people he enslaved to have children with people he was not enslaving, because he would not own the children. One day Robert sneaked over to see Truth. When Catton and his son found him, they savagely beat Robert until Dumont finally intervened, and Truth never saw Robert again. He died some years later, perhaps as a result of the injuries, and the experience haunted Truth throughout her life. Truth eventually married an older slave named Thomas. She bore five children: James, her firstborn, who died in childhood, Diana (1815), fathered by either Robert or John Dumont, and Peter (1821), Elizabeth (1825), and Sophia (ca. 1826), all born after she and Thomas united.
The state of New York began, in 1799, to legislate the abolition of slavery, although the process of emancipating those people enslaved in New York was not complete until July 4, 1827. Dumont had promised to grant Truth her 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 but continued working out of her sense of obligation to him.
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. She later said “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.” She found her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen in New Paltz, who took her and her baby in. Isaac offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year (until the state’s emancipation took effect), which Dumont accepted for $20. She lived there until the New York State Emancipation Act was approved a year later.
Truth learned that her son Peter, then five years old, had been sold illegally by Dumont to an owner in Alabama. With the help of the Van Wagenens, she took the issue to court and in 1828, after months of legal proceedings, she got back her son, who had been abused by those who were enslaving him. Truth had a life-changing religious experience during her stay with the Van Wagenens, and became a devout Christian. In 1829 she moved with her son Peter to New York City, where she worked as a housekeeper for Elijah Pierson, a Christian Evangelist. While in New York, she befriended Mary Simpson, a grocer on John Street who claimed she had once been enslaved by George Washington. They shared an interest in charity for the poor and became intimate friends. In 1832, she met Robert Matthews, also known as Prophet Matthias, and went to work for him as a housekeeper at the Matthias Kingdom communal colony. Elijah Pierson died, and Robert Matthews and Truth were accused of stealing from and poisoning him. Both were acquitted of the murder, though Matthews was convicted of lesser crimes, served time, and moved west.
In 1839, Truth’s son Peter took a job on a whaling ship called the Zone of Nantucket. From 1840 to 1841, she received three letters from him, though in his third letter he told her he had sent five. Peter said he also never received any of her letters. When the ship returned to port in 1842, Peter was not on board and Truth never heard from him again.
1843 was a turning point for Truth. She became a Methodist, and on June 1, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She told friends: “The Spirit calls me, and I must go” and left to make her way traveling and preaching about the abolition of slavery. At that time, Truth began attending Millerite Adventist camp meetings. However, that did not last since Jesus failed to appear in 1843 and then again in 1844. Like many others disappointed, Truth distanced herself from her Millerite friends for a while.
In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. Founded by abolitionists, the organization supported women’s rights and religious tolerance as well as pacifism. There were, in its four-and-a-half year history, a total of 240 members, though no more than 120 at any one time. They lived on 470 acres (1.9 km2), raising livestock, running a sawmill, a gristmill, and a silk factory. While there, Truth met William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles. In 1846, the group disbanded, unable to support itself.
Truth started dictating her memoirs to her friend Olive Gilbert, and in 1850 William Lloyd Garrison privately published her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. That same year, she purchased a home in what would become the village of Florence in Northampton for $300, and spoke at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 1854, with proceeds from sales of the Narrative and cartes-de-visite entitled “I sell the shadow to support the substance,” she paid off the mortgage held by her friend from the Community, Samuel L. Hill.
In 1851, Truth joined George Thompson, an abolitionist and speaker, on a lecture tour through central and western New York State. In May, she attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered her famous extemporaneous speech on women’s rights, later known as “Ain’t I a Woman.” Her speech demanded equal human rights for all women as well as for all former slaves. The convention was organized by Hannah Tracy and Frances Dana Barker Gage, who both were present when Truth spoke. Different versions of Truth’s words have been recorded, with the first one published a month later by Marius Robinson, a newspaper owner and editor who was in the audience. Robinson’s recounting of the speech included no instance of the question “Ain’t I a Woman?” Twelve years later in May 1863, Gage published another, very different, version. In it, Truth’s speech pattern had characteristics of Southern slaves, and the speech included sentences and phrases that Robinson didn’t report. Gage’s version of the speech became the historic standard version, and is known as “Ain’t I a Woman?” because that question was repeated four times. It is highly unlikely that Truth’s own speech pattern was Southern in nature given that she was born and raised in New York, and she spoke only Dutch until she was nine years old.
Over the next 10 years, Truth spoke before numerous audiences. From 1851 to 1853, Truth worked with Marius Robinson, the editor of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Bugle, and traveled around that state speaking. In 1853, she spoke at a suffragist “mob convention” at the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City; that year she also met Harriet Beecher Stowe. In 1856, she traveled to Battle Creek, Michigan, to speak to a group called the “Friends of Human Progress.” In 1858, someone interrupted a speech she was giving and accused her of being a man; Truth opened her blouse and revealed her breasts. She was that kind of woman.
Now tell me, do these two (admittedly brief) narratives confirm Ben Carson’s ludicrous image of slaves as hard working immigrants with dreams of prosperity, or something else?
Tubman worked as a cook part of her life and it is recorded that she sold gingerbread to raise money. No recipe of hers exists of course, but there are plenty available online. They are all very much alike. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/7322/favorite-old-fashioned-gingerbread/ Gingerbread actually comes in two styles, cake and biscuit.This recipe is for the cake version which is what I normally make.
Shortnin’ bread may have been a plantation slave treat, although it is primarily known from a racist ditty, written by James Whitcomb Riley in 1900. No reliable recipe exists, of course, but the moderate consensus is that it was very simple, and cheap. The best guess is that it was a mix of flour (or cornmeal), shortening, and sugar (or molasses) that was kneaded into a dough and then baked in a heavy, lidded skillet or fried. This recipe uses butter instead of shortbread and brown sugar. It is really just a speculation, but it’s not bad.
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup dark brown sugar (or molasses)
1 cup flour
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cream the butter and sugar together. If you are using molasses put the butter and molasses together in a pan over low heat and stir until the butter is melted.
Add the flour and stir to mix thoroughly. When the mixture has formed a pliable dough turn it out on to a floured surface and knead until it is soft.
Roll the dough to about ½” thickness and cut into strips. Place in a greased skillet, cover, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the dough turns golden. You can also do this on the stovetop over medium heat.