Sojourner Truth Became The First Black Woman In History To Win Her Son’s Freedom, Court Documents Uncovers

The New York State Archives discovered, buried within 5,000 cubic feet of court records, the 200-year-old proceedings of abolitionist Sojourner Truth’s battle to obtain the freedom of her youngest enslaved son, Peter.

CNN reported that archivist, author, and historian James D. Folts uncovered the 1828 documents, which included eight pages of complete court proceedings, following the abolitionist’s case against her former owner and the Albany Supreme Court.

Truth’s case marked the first time in history a Black woman successfully sued a white man for a family member’s freedom. Folts discloses that the documents can further explain the history of slave laws in New York and exposes the painful realities of slavery throughout all the regions in the United States. He also notes that the documents reveal some of the missing and inexplicable details about Peter’s life, which helps for accuracy purposes.

In the 18th century, New York was a major slave port for the western world. Although Truth was considered a free woman in the 19th century, her five children were still enslaved. Her youngest son, Peter, was an indentured servant at five years old to Truth’s former master in New York, John Dumont, who sold him to Eleazar Gedney of Newburgh, New York, for $20. According to Three Village Historical Society, Truth later discovered that Solomon Gedney had illegally sold her son to his brother-in-law in Alabama.

Upon discovery, Truth sought proper legal counsel and filed a deposition under her former name, Isabella Van Wagenen. The People v. Solomon Gedney proceedings began on March 1, 1828, which cited a Gradual Emancipation act that freed slave children born after July 4, 1799, but indentured them until they were young adults. Peter was born in 1818.

According to CNN, the uncovered documents also revealed that the Alabama owner was prosecuted for kidnapping, but he returned Peter severely beaten, according to court records.

A response from Peter’s owner in New York was also recorded in the documents, alongside the official court order freeing Peter from bondage.

“It’s a document that has been lost. The document is new to historians,” said Folts about the deposition, according to Times-Union.