Sojourner Truth and slave ancestry in New York

Did you know Sojourner Truth was born in Ulster County, NY? I didn’t until I moved here. She was born ca. 1797 and lived with a Dutch family in her early years, speaking Dutch as her native language. We can find her parents, her brother and her in the inventory of her owner’s estate, listed as Isabella. She was sold a few times, each time to another owner in Ulster County. The year before slaves were freed in New York state, she walked away from her master because he reneged on his promise to set her free a year early. She walked to the Van Wagenen family, her neighbors, and they bought her freedom. She became one of the most engaging Abolitionist speakers in the county.

Slavery in New York was abolished in 1827, a few decades later than the New England states and a few decades sooner than the Southern states. For genealogy research, slaves in New York can be found listed in census records, wills, estate inventories, and even letters written among family members. I have a letter written to my g-g-g grandfather Jonathan Hawkins on Long Island from his neighbor’s son in 1817.  Jonathan was the executor of the neighbor’s will and guardian to his two sons. The son inquired what had happened to his father’s slave Meanor and her child when his mother remarried. As her new owner, he wanted to fulfill his obligations to support them, and yet he preferred to give them their freedom.

Find out more about Sojourner Truth, her legacy and slave ancestry in New York on  Sojourner’s descendant Tom McLiechey, Ulster County historian Anne Gordon, and folk musician Bob Lusk joined me on an excellent show. Would you believe that Tom didn’t know he was a descendant of Sojourner until he was 30 years old? Amazing!

Posted on by Jane Wilcox


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