Sojourner Truth's America

Author: Margaret Washington
An expansive new biography of Sojourner Truth, charismatic preacher and activist
Paper – $27
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Paperback: 01/01/2011
Cloth: 01/01/2009
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About the Book

This fascinating biography tells the story of nineteenth-century America through the life of one of its most charismatic and influential characters: Sojourner Truth. In an in-depth account of this amazing activist, Margaret Washington unravels Sojourner Truth's world within the broader panorama of African American slavery and the nation's most significant reform era.

Born into bondage among the Hudson Valley Dutch in Ulster County, New York, Isabella was sold several times, married, and bore five children before fleeing in 1826 with her infant daughter one year before New York slavery was abolished. In 1829, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a domestic, preached, joined a religious commune, and then in 1843 had an epiphany. Changing her name to Sojourner Truth, she began traveling the country as a champion of the downtrodden and a spokeswoman for equality by promoting Christianity, abolitionism, and women's rights.

Gifted in verbal eloquence, wit, and biblical knowledge, Sojourner Truth possessed an earthy, imaginative, homespun personality that won her many friends and admirers and made her one of the most popular and quoted reformers of her times. Washington's biography of this remarkable figure considers many facets of Sojourner Truth's life to explain how she became one of the greatest activists in American history, including her African and Dutch religious heritage; her experiences of slavery within contexts of labor, domesticity, and patriarchy; and her profoundly personal sense of justice and intuitive integrity.

Organized chronologically into three distinct eras of Truth's life, Sojourner Truth's America examines the complex dynamics of her times, beginning with the transnational contours of her spirituality and early life as Isabella and her embroilments in legal controversy. Truth's awakening during nineteenth-century America's progressive surge then propelled her ascendancy as a rousing preacher and political orator despite her inability to read and write. Throughout the book, Washington explores Truth's passionate commitment to family and community, including her vision for a beloved community that extended beyond race, gender, and socioeconomic condition and embraced a common humanity. For Sojourner Truth, the significant model for such communalism was a primitive, prophetic Christianity.

Illustrated with dozens of images of Truth and her contemporaries, Sojourner Truth's America draws a delicate and compelling balance between Sojourner Truth's personal motivations and the influences of her historical context. Washington provides important insights into the turbulent cultural and political climate of the age while also separating the many myths from the facts concerning this legendary American figure.

About the Author

Margaret Washington is a professor of history and American studies at Cornell University. She is the author of the award-winning book "A Peculiar People": Slave Religion and Community-Culture Among the Gullahs and the editor of The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.


"[A] wonderfully detailed and insightful account of Sojourner Truth's life."--The Journal of American History

"This biography is admirable in its thoroughness and in Washington's commitment to her subject and is well worth consulting."--Publishers Weekly

“This scholarly biography, meticulously researched . . . is destined to be the definitive study for a generation. Highly recommended.”--Choice

"An interesting and persuasive reading. By forcing us to give up a sanitized, desexualized picture of Truth . . . Washington does us a great service--one of many performed by this exciting and comprehensive book."--Women's Review of Books

"This landmark study sets a new standard for the life-and-times genre of biography writing."--The Journal of Southern History

"Sojourner Truth's America offers new insights into Truth's journey from slavery to self-emancipation. . . . Insightful and painstakingly researched."--Women: A Cultural Review


"A solid, welcome addition to the literature on antebellum women, blacks, religion, and reform. This book will be around for a very long time."--Paul E. Johnson, coauthor of The Early American Republic, 1789-1829

"In this beautifully rendered account, Margaret Washington wields the extraordinary life of a single black woman to illuminate and evaluate the dynamic cultural and political landscape of nineteenth-century America. Engaging enslavement and emancipation, religious perfectionism and social activism, civil war and civil rights, Sojourner Truth's America captures a radical vision of a better world and the challenges to achieving it."--Nancy A. Hewitt, author of Southern Discomfort: Women's Activism in Tampa, Florida, 1880s-1920s

"In a tour de force of extraordinary research, powerful writing, and compassionate historical reconstruction, Margaret Washington has restored to us the full life of the woman later known as Sojourner Truth. I particularly appreciated the careful, original, illuminating account of Truth's early years as a Dutch-African slave. Women's history, the history of slavery, and U.S. history in general are the richer for this important book."--Ellen Carol DuBois, coauthor of Through Women's Eyes: An American History with Documents


Winner of the inaugural 2010 OAH Darlene Clark Hine Award. A Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2010. Co-winner of the 2009 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Award.