Slave Sojourner Truth Wins Court Battle and Gets Her Son Back
Excerpt from Brenda's Taming the Dragons: Choices for Women in Conflict and Pain [page 49, Orphan]
Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry unto me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword …
- Exodus 22:22-24 (NIV)
When ISABEL "SOJOURNER TRUTH" was born a slave in 1797 in Hurley, NY, it was against the law to sell a slave South. Yet when a former master sold her five-year-old son Peter to a Dr. Gedney (who in turn sold him to his brother Solomon), it didn’t stop Solomon Gedney from selling the little boy to his sister’s brother, an Alabama planter. Outraged and grief-stricken, Sojourner Truth confronted Solomon Gedney’s wife. When she got no satisfaction, she appealed to Mrs. Gedney the matron, mother of the man who’d illegally sold her son.
“Ugh!” said Mrs. Gedney. “A fine fuss to make about a little nigger! Why, haven’t you as many of them as you can see to and take care of? Making such a hullabaloo about the neighborhood, and all for a paltry nigger!”
“I knew I’d have him again,” said Sojourner Truth. “I was sure God would help me to get him. Why, I felt so tall within—I felt as if the power of a nation was with me.”9 And she did have him with her again. Relying on God and her own rugged, daring determination, in 1828 she, a single, black slave woman, took a white man, Solomon Gedney, to court for selling her son South—and won.
But when she got Peter back, he was covered head to foot with the scars of brutal beatings. Peter, trying to ease his mother’s fury, whispered, “This is nothing, Mammy. If you would see Phillis, I guess you’d scare. She had a little baby, and Fowler cut her till the milk as well as blood ran down her body. You would scare to see Phillis, Mammy.” Sojourner Truth, unable to stop the rage, cursed Mr. Fowler and his wife and called upon God in the courtroom to “render unto them double!”
A few months later Sojourner Truth learned that the Alabama plantation owner, Mr. Fowler, had brutally murdered his wife, daughter of the same Mrs. Gedney who’d earlier mocked Sojourner’s anguish over the loss of her little son. Remembering that she’d asked God to render unto her enemies double, Sojourner Truth cried, “Oh, my God! That’s too much—I did not mean so much, God!”
Sometimes when we think God does not see our despair, we can remember Sojourner Truth and know he does—and maybe we can even feel grateful he doesn’t always lash out in his rage just to prove that none of are without help.
9. Virginia Oniz, Sojourner Truth: A Self Made Woman (Philadelphia : Lippincott, 1974)