Decades before she took her fabled name, abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth was born enslaved in Ulster County, NY under the name Isabella. It was as Isabella that the young Truth took action to secure the return of her five-year son Peter, who had been illegally sold to in plantation in Alabama.
With the help of local attorneys, Isabella filed a Habeas Corpus Petition in the Ulster County Courthouse in March of 1828. And it was this Isabella that prevailed on that Petition for her son’s freedom, marking the first time in American history that a Black woman sued a white man – and won. (You can read about that here).
For decades, local historians believed that no documents from this historic case had survived, other than the Recognizance Bond issued by the Ulster County Court held in the Archives of the Ulster County Clerk. Or so it was thought.
Earlier this year, the original Petition and supporting documents from Sojourner Truth’s lawsuit – including her own Affidavit – were discovered in the New York State Archives in Albany. These documents as well the Recognizance Bond will be on display in the Ulster County Courthouse for the first time since 1828.
The documents will be on display on June 15th, from noon until 4 pm, in the Ulster County Courthouse, located at 285 Wall Street in Kingston – the site of Sojourner Truth’s triumph. Among those to share the day will be Sojourner Truth’s 6th great-granddaughter Barbara Allen and Professor Nell Irvin Painter, author of Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol (W.W.Norton & Co., 1997).
To view a livestream of the event visit Welcome to VirtualCourt (nycourts.gov) and use password 1234.
This program will begin at noon, and is free and open to the public. For more information, call the Ulster County Surrogates Court at (845) 481-9343, the Ulster County Clerk’s Office at (845) 340-3040 or the Commissioner of Juror’s Office at (845) 481-9384.
Photo of Sojourner Truth from an albumen silver print c. 1870.