Introductory Note:

Sojourner Truth (1793-1883) was a powerhouse preacher and abolitionist. Her enslaved name was Isabella Baumfree, but as a free woman she felt led to take the name Sojourner—because of her commitment to go wherever God sent her, and Truth—because she readily shared whatever God laid on her heart with listeners from all walks of life. Her dynamic mind and willing spirit were open to receive the riches of God’s wisdom. “The Spirit blows where it wills,” and Sojourner Truth was an unfurled sail.

Though she could neither read nor write, her spoken words had the authority of a divinely appointed messenger. Many who heard Sojourner Truth were inspired to record her words but the authenticity of some of these renderings is questionable. In 1850 she chose Olive Gilbert to write her biography, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, from which the excerpt below was selected.

Grace Pouch
Content Manager

Excerpt from Beautiful Vessels

I’ll go to the rescue, and the Lord shall go with me

[In 1843, Isabella Baumfree felt called in spirit to travel east to testify to the hope that was in her.” She took a new name, Sojourner Truth. She spoke to groups of gathered Christians in a variety of revival settings, without concern for sect, so long as she sensed a communion in their mutual love for Jesus.]

When Sojourner had been at Northampton a few months, she attended a campmeeting. A party of wild young men had assembled at the meeting, hooting and yelling, and in various ways interrupting the services. A hundred or more young men dispersed themselves through the grounds, making the most frightful noises and threatening to fire the tents.

Sojourner found herself quaking with fear. Under the impulse of this sudden emotion, she fled to the most withdrawn corner of a tent, and secreted herself behind a trunk, saying to herself, I am the only colored person here, and on me, probably, their wicked mischief will fall first, and perhaps fatally.” But feeling insecure even there, as the very tent began to shake from its foundations, she said to herself:

Shall I run away and hide from the Devil? Me, a servant of the living God? Have I not faith enough to go out and quell that mob, when I know it is written — One shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight’? I know there are not a thousand here; and I know l am a servant of the living God. I’ll go to the rescue, and the Lord shall go with and protect me.”

Oh,” said she, I felt as if I had three hearts! and that they were so large, my body could hardly hold them!” She came forth from her hiding place, and invited several to go with her to see what they could do to still the raging of the moral elements.

They declined, and considered her wild to think of it.

The meeting was in the open fields — the full moon shed its saddened light over all. The noise and confusion were now terrific. Sojourner left the tent alone and unaided, and walking to the top of a small rise of ground, commenced to sing with all the strength of her most powerful voice the hymn on the resurrection of Christ: 

It was early in the morning,
Just at the break of day
When he rose — when he rose — when he rose.

All who have ever heard her sing this hymn will probably remember it as long as they live.

With truth and wisdom beyond herself

As she commenced to sing, the young men made a rush towards her, and she was immediately encircled by a dense body of the rioters, many of them armed with sticks or clubs. As the circle narrowed around her, she ceased singing, and after a short pause, inquired, in a gentle but firm tone, Why do you come about me with clubs and sticks? I am not doing harm to anyone.”

We aren’t a going to hurt you, old woman; we came to hear you sing,” cried many voices, simultaneously. Sing to us, old woman,” cries one. Talk to us, old woman,” says another. Pray, old woman,” says a third. Tell us your experience,” says a fourth.

She looked about her, and with her usual discernment, said inwardly —“Here must be many young men, bearing within them hearts susceptible of good impressions. I will speak to them.” She did speak; they silently heard, and civilly asked her many questions. It seemed to be given her at the time to answer them with truth and wisdom beyond herself.

Amen! It is sealed.

Her speech had operated on the roused passions of the mob like oil on agitated waters; they were, as a whole, entirely subdued, and only clamored when she ceased to speak or sing. Those who stood in the background, after the circle was enlarged, cried out, Sing loud, old woman, we can’t hear.” She spoke and sung to them about an hour. 

When she became wearied with talking, she began to cast about her to contrive some way to induce them to disperse. While she paused, they loudly clamored, More, sing more.”

She motioned them to be quiet, and called out to them: Children, I have talked and sung to you, as you asked me; and now have a request to make of you; will you grant it?” Yes, yes, yes,” resounded from every quarter.

If I will sing one more hymn for you, will you then go away, and leave us this night in peace?” Yes,” came faintly, feebly from a few.

I repeat it,” says Sojourner, and I want an answer from you all, as of one accord. If I will sing you one more, will you go away, and leave us this night in peace?” Yes, yes, yes,” shouted many voices, with hearty emphasis.

I repeat my request once more,” said she, and want you all to answer.” And she reiterated the words again. This time a long, loud Yes!” came up, as from the multitudinous mouth of the entire mob. AMEN! it is SEALED,” repeated Sojourner, in the deepest and most solemn tones of her powerful and sonorous voice. Its effect ran through the multitude, like an electric shock.

She commenced to sing:

I bless the Lord I’ve got my seal — today and today— 
To slay Goliath in the field — today and today—
The good old way is a righteous way,
I mean to take the kingdom in the good old way.

Before she had quite concluded, she saw them turn from her, and in the course of a few minutes, they were running as fast as they well could in a solid body; and she says she can compare them to nothing but a swarm of bees, so dense was their phalanx, so straight their course, so hurried their march.

As they passed with a rush very near the stand of the other preachers, the hearts of the people were smitten with fear, thinking that they were coming upon them with redoubled and remorseless fury. But before they could well recover from their surprise, every rioter was gone, and not one was left on the grounds.

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Text First Published January 1850 · Last Featured on March 2023