Long Island occupies a special place in American history as the home of Jupiter Hammon, our country’s first published African American writer. Long Island has also seen many other remarkable Black authors, leaders, and more, including Sag Harbor’s pioneering real estate developers, Maude Terry and Amaza Lee Meredith, and Dix Hill’s legendary Jazz couple, John and Alice Coltrane.
Thanks to research by curator Jonathan Olly for the Long Island Museum‘s recent exhibition, “Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island,” we’ve rediscovered a forgotten story from 1843. The story involves a charismatic itinerant preacher who celebrated the 4th of July at Cold Spring Harbor’s Old Methodist Church (built 1842), now the location of Preservation Long Island’s headquarters and gallery.
On Pentecost Sunday in June 1843, Isabella “Belle” Baumfree (ca. 1797–November 26, 1883) embraced a spiritual calling to become one the most famous 19th-century American preachers, Sojourner Truth. Departing New York City on foot, her path led east towards Long Island, and into history as one of America’s most influential abolitionists and advocates for women’s rights.
Sojourner Truth arrived at Cold Spring Harbor on July 4, 1843, just in time to join the local Methodist congregation to celebrate Independence Day. According to The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a biography dictated by Sojourner Truth to Olive Gilbert (1801–1884), “she found the people making preparations for a mass temperance-meeting. With her usual alacrity, she entered into their labors, getting up [cooking] dishes à la New York, greatly to the satisfaction of those she assisted. After remaining at Cold Springs some three weeks, she returned to Huntingdon [sic], where she took a boat for Connecticut.”
Happy Independence Day 2020 from Preservation Long Island!
Sojourner Truth delivered her unforgettable “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech to the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention of 1851. The video shared above features Alfre Woodard performing “Ain’t I a Woman?” at a Human Rights First event in 2014.