Day 4: Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth
Born into slavery on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Harriet's ancestors had been brought to America in shackles from Africa during the first half of the 18th Century. Harriet was the 11th child born to Benjamin Ross and Harriet Greene (slaves of Edward Brodas), her given name was Araminta and she was often called "Minty" as a child. But by the time she was an adult she was calling herself Harriet.
As was the custom for many slaves, Harriet began working at an early age. When five years old, she was first sent away from home, "loaned out" to another plantation, checking muskrat traps in icy cold rivers. She quickly became too sick to work and was returned, malnourished and suffering from the cold exposure. Once she recovered, she was loaned out to another plantation, working as a nurse to the planter's infant child. By the age of 12, she was working as a field hand, plowing and hauling wood. At 13, while defending a fellow slave who tried to run away, her overseer struck her in the head with a two-pound weight. This resulted in recurring narcoleptic seizures, or sleeping spells, that plagued her the rest of her life. ( Collapse )
Sojourner Truth was born in 1797 on the Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh estate in Swartekill, in Ulster County, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. Her given name was Isabella Baumfree (also spelled Bomefree). She was one of 13 children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree, also slaves on the Hardenbergh plantation. She spoke only Dutch until she was sold from her family around the age of nine. Because of the cruel treatment she suffered at the hands of a later master, she learned to speak English quickly, but had a Dutch accent for the rest of her life.
She was first sold around age 9 when her second master (Charles Hardenbergh) died in 1808. She was sold to John Neely, along with a herd of sheep, for $100. Neely's wife and family only spoke English and beat Isabella fiercely for the frequent miscommunications. She later said that Neely once whipped her with "a bundle of rods, prepared in the embers, and bound together with cords." It was during this time that she began to find refuge in religion -- beginning the habit of praying aloud when scared or hurt.
When her father once came to visit, she pleaded with him to help her. Soon after, Martinus Schryver purchased her for $105. He owned a tavern and, although the atmosphere was crude and morally questionable, it was a safer haven for Isabella.
But a year and a half later, in 1810, she was sold again to John Dumont of New Paltz, New York. Isabella suffered many hardships at the hands of Mrs. Dumont, whom Isabella later described as cruel and harsh. Although she did not explain the reasons for this treatment in her later biography narrative, historians have surmised that the unspeakable things might have been sexual abuse or harassment (see the biography on Harriet Jacobs, the only former slave to write about such), or simply the daily humiliations that slaves endured. ( Collapse )