Ulster County, home to towns like New Paltz, Saugerties, Woodstock, Kingston and several others, is also home to some important historical figures honored during Black History Month.
That is why on Saturday, Feb. 7, Ulster County Historian Anne Gordon graced Historic Huguenot Street with her lecture entitled, “From Isabella to Sojourner: A Slave In Ulster County.”
Dedicated to the noble life of Sojourner Truth, Gordon informed attendees of the travesties and triumphs Truth faced throughout her lifetime.
Gordon explained that Truth had been born in the hamlet of Esopus and lived there the first 30 years of her life.
After escaping a youth of slavery, Sojourner Truth went on to become a nationally-known abolitionist speaker who traveled around the country giving speeches to attack slavery, according to Gordon.
“We want to keep reminding people that Sojourner Truth was here and she had a message, and the message was human rights,” Gordon said in an interview with Candace Dunkley of Time Warner Cable News of the Hudson Valley.
In an article written by Harriet Beecher Stowe — the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and a fellow abolitionist — featured in the April 1863 edition of The Atlantic, Truth prepared to leave New York City in 1843 after 14 years of work with the Methodist church as a missionary and domestic worker.
According to Stowe, Truth “took her belongings in a pillow case and took to the road as a traveling evangelist.”
In a continuing conversation with Stowe, Truth (at the time) said she had “asked the Lord for a new name and he gave her Sojourner, since she was going to travel up and down the land,” — and thus she went from Isabella to Sojourner.
She would later ask for another name, “since everyone had two names.”
“And the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare the truth to the people,” Truth said to Stowe, according to the article.
Sojourner Truth is still honored all over the country today — some examples include her bust in the United States Capitol Building, a statue of Truth as a child in Port Ewen, New York, which Gordon raised the funds for and a library named after her at SUNY New Paltz.
“Sojourner Truth is an icon in Ulster,” Gordon said. “The statue reminds people that there is still child slavery today all over the world, and that needs to be pointed out and fought against.”
During her lecture, Gordon talked about the origins of slavery in the United States, Truth’s life in Ulster as a slave to a tavern owner, how she was the first black woman to successfully sue a white man in court and of her death in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1887.
“The lecture was in honor of Black History Month, but it also portrayed a piece of Ulster County history that’s not always told,” said Kara Gaffken, director of public programming at Historic Huguenot Street. “Something that’s very important to Huguenot Street is telling those untold stories.”
Based on the large turnout at Gordon’s lecture, Gaffken said that Historic Huguenot Street will need to do more lectures on Ulster County Black History.
Gordon has been giving lectures since she was appointed Ulster County Historian eight years ago and will be speaking again at Historic Huguenot Street on March 7 and April 4.