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Struggles + Sojourns

REMEMBERING SOJOURNER TRUTH IN NEW JERSEY + NEW YORK

Article by Paul Soltis

Photography by Paul Soltis

Last month we explored "When Women First Won the Vote" in New Jersey. New Jersey's first Constitution, written by the Provincial Congress that included two delegates from the Old Dutch Parsonage, granted limited women's suffrage for the first three decades of New Jersey's statehood.

Through the grim bonds of slavery the Old Dutch Parsonage is also linked to perhaps the paramount figure in the combined effort for the abolition of slavery AND women’s suffrage. Sojourner Truth was born in Ulster County, New York, where Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh lived before moving to New Jersey to enter studies here at the Old Dutch Parsonage. The Hardenbergh family held Sojourner Truth in slavery for the first nine years of her life.

Growing up in slavery in the former Dutch territory of New Netherland, Sojourner Truth claimed and participated in an Afro-Dutch culture that uniquely combined the Dutch heritage of the broader New Jersey and New York region with the African heritage carried even through slavery by so many Black Americans. Sojourner Truth spoke Dutch as a primary, and for at least the first decade of her life was only language she knew. While she later learned English and used English to great effect as a public speaker, her oratory was always infused with a Low-Dutch accent and perhaps the rhetorical patterns of old New Netherland. Sojourner Truth used the Dutch culture of her earliest enslavers to advance her own mission for abolition and suffrage.

Sojourner Truth has reentered public memory in a new way during the 19th Amendment's 100th anniversary this year. New Jersey artist Grace Lynne Haynes painted Sojourner Truth for The New Yorker in August.

Grace Lynne Haynes is a graduate student in the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Rutgers in 2016 honored its own connections to Sojourner Truth through the Hardenbergh family at Sojourner Truth Apartments on the historic College Avenue Campus in New Brunswick.

August saw the addition of two prominent memorials to Sojourner Truth in New York. The State of New York installed a statue of Sojourner Truth at Walkway over the Hudson State Historic Park. Sojourner Truth now appears in New York City's Central Park in conversation with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

We are continuing to celebrate 100 years since the return of women's suffrage to New Jersey at Wallace House & Old Dutch Parsonage State Historic Sites this fall. Join us outdoors for "A History of American Women in Song" on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, and save the dates for Somerset County's Weekend Journey Through the Past when we continue to explore women's history Saturday, Oct. 10, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 11, noon–4 p.m.

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