From Slave to Freewoman
Sojourner Truth's life story was the basis for all of her speeches. She relied on her experiences as a slave, a woman, and an African American to serve as the arguments for her crusades. The actual events of this woman's true life are pieced together from fragments of fact that have become tangled with legend. Because Truth never became literate, she told her story to her friend Olive Gilbert , who wrote it down for her in her Narrative. Later, another friend, Frances Titus , added a section called Book of Life," that consisted of newspaper clippings, autographs of people Truth met, including Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, and other memorabilia, much of which Truth had placed in her three scrapbooks. Unfortunately, only one of these scrapbooks remains, and its contents are rather sparse.
The facts in the Narrative have been questioned with regard to accuracy, but it is not truly important whether or not the material in this story is actual or fictionalized; what is important is that it is the story Truth agreed to have told. Theodore Tilton offered to write her biography in 1871 and was told by Truth that she still had "lots" to accomplish and did not wish to be "written up" at this time. 1 Justification for Truth's decision may have been threefold. First, her narrative and her carte de visites (photographs), which she called her shadows, were her only means of financial support: a new biography might cut into that support. Second, she did not seem to be concerned with the facts. A good example occurred in both the National Anti-Slavery Standard and History of Woman Suffrage versions of Frances D. Gage famous report of Truth's speech at the Woman's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851. In both versions Truth is supposed to have stated that she had thirteen children, most of whom had been sold from her. In reality Truth had five children, and most were not sold, but indentured. Truth made no attempt to correct the error.
The third possible reason for a rejection of Tilton's offer to write her biography might be that much of her slave life was omitted from the Narrative because, as Gilbert explained at one point, some details of her life with her third master, John J. Dumont, needed to be passed over in silence, "some from mo-