A newly minted bronze statue of celebrated abolitionist and human rights advocate Sojourner Truth as a child slave at work will be installed in Port Ewen, in the Town of Esopus, Ulster County on September 21. The statue and an interpretive sign will be installed on a plaza on the corner of 9W and Salem Street.
Sojourner Truth was born in into slavery in Swartekill, just north of present-day Rifton in Esopus. Her parents had been enslaved in Africa and purchased by Col. Johannes Hardenbergh. She was born as Isabella Baumfree in about 1797, and lived the first 30 years of her life in Ulster County, taking the name Sojourner Truth in the 1840s. She is best known today for her speech “Ain’t I A Woman?’, which she delivered off-hand at the 1851 Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. She died in Michigan in 1883.
The full-sized statue, sculpted by Trina Green of New Paltz, depicts Truth as a young girl, reminding people that children, as well as adults, were enslaved and continue to be today. The rendering is taken from her own narrative of what her life was like in 1810 when she was a thirteen-year old child.
At te age of nine, Truth (then known as Belle and speaking only Dutch), was sold at an auction near Kingston with a flock of sheep to John Neely who she later said beat her daily. Neely sold her in 1808, Port Ewen tavern keeper Martinus Schryver. Truth would be sold a fourth time, forced to marry, and have five children. In 1826, forced to leave her other children behind, she escaped with her infant daughter Sophie to the nearby home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagener, who bought her services from her last owner until the New York State Emancipation Act went into effect.
Nancy Giles, Emmy Award winning on-air contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning, will be the featured speaker at the statue unveiling event, which will be held on Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 2 pm in Port Ewen. The public is encouraged to attend. Both 9W and Salem Street will be closed for the event to accommodate the audience and the program. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs. Parking is available on nearby town streets. African drumming will be provided by the Amadu Diallo Drum Group and other area musicians will perform.
Anne Gordon, Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee Chair and Ulster County Historian, believes this to be the only statue in the world of a child slave at work. “The point of this memorial statue is to say to people no matter what limitations or experiences you have had, look at what a person can overcome,” said Gordon. She added, “It also recognizes that people here in Ulster County helped her.”
Funding for the statue was obtained by Assemblyman Kevin Cahill (D), through a capital grant from the New York State Assembly. Local businesses, organizations and individuals also contributed to the mission of creating the memorial.
Photos: Above, Sojourner Truth from an albumen silver print (c. 1870); below, the home of Col. Johannes Hardenburgh (c. 1903).