153 Carney Road, Rifton
A small brick house standing on Carney Road is the birthplace of Sojourner Truth, a famous African American abolitionist and feminist. Born, circa 1797, to an enslaved, Dutch-speaking couple, Elizabeth and James Baumfree, Truth (originally named Isabella Baumfree) exemplified resistance against slavery in the Hudson Valley, while her legacy of anti-slavery and women’s rights activism and organizing go far beyond her local roots.
Truth was born into slavery under the ownership of Johannes Hardenbergh Jr. in Rifton., then within the Town of Hurley. The area had many enslaved people: In 1790, there were 195 slaves in Hurley, 81 more than in the adjacent and larger town of Kingston. When Truth was born, circa 1797, the Hardenbergh’s owned 7 slaves, making them one of the larger enslavers in the Hudson Valley. Truth was sold three times before John Dumont purchased her in West Park in 1810.
Dumont committed to freeing Truth after New York State passed an abolition law in 1817. The law promised freedom to any enslaved person, who was born before July 4, 1799, by July 4, 1827. However, less than a year before Truth would legally be free, he retracted his promise. In response, Truth took her infant daughter, Sophia, and fled Dumont’s farm later that year. Discussing her flight later on she said, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be alright.” She marched up Floyd Ackert Road, where she stayed at the home of a Quaker named Levi Rowe on Popletown Road. Later, she went to the Van Wagner Road home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, who purchased her from Dumont and freed her.
Upon her emancipation, Truth became a powerful force in the abolitionist and suffrage movements. She was also victorious in a major court case. In 1827, Solomon Gedney, who had bought Truth’s son from the Dumonts, attempted to illegally sell him to an enslaver in Alabama. Truth tried to block the sale by filing a case at the City of Kingston Court. In 1828, she won, becoming the first black woman to win a court case against a white man in the United States.
While Truth never learned to read or write, she was an avid preacher and lecturer. Distinguishing herself from other black abolitionists like Fredrick Douglas, Truth championed equality for African American women in the mid-19th century. She believed that women’s suffrage was essential to the black struggle in the United States. In her revolutionary speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” Truth asserted that African American women should receive the same rights as white women.
Today, Sojourner Truth’s legacy lives on in various ways in the mid-Hudson Valley. There is a statue of her at the Walkway Over the Hudson, a library named after her at SUNY New Paltz, and many other monuments. While her birthplace, today a private home, still stands, there is limited memorialization of her experience in Rifton. A mid-Hudson Valley organization called Harambee has not let this diminish her impact on the community. In August of 2020, it held a “Pathway to Freedom” ceremony at Shaupeneak Ridge, a location that Truth likely visited on her march to freedom. There, various speakers recounted her life and shared how she has inspired their own activism in the Hudson Valley.
Quote: “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”
–Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?” Akron, Ohio, May 29, 1851.
There is no public transit to Rifton. Route 213, which runs south from Kingston, passes though Rifton. From Route 213, take Carney Road (it runs eastward). About one tenth of a mile down the road on the right-hand side is Sturgeon Pond, where there is a historical marker that says “Birthplace of Sojourner Truth.” Across the road, there is a small stone house; this is the birthplace of Sojourner Truth.
To learn more:
Nearby site of interest:
Sojourner Truth Freedom Trail. You can follow Sojourner Truth’s likely 11.5-mile path to freedom from the farm of John Dumont to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagener. There is no marked path, but you can find an indication of where it was, more or less, here.
Elijah Appelson, Mathematics & Statistics, 2023.