chapter  1
26 Pages

Sojourner Truth, Character, and Context

On the morning of June 1, 1843 in New York City, Isabella Van Wagenen, the black house servant of Lucy Whiting, stunned her employer of over 10 years when she announced that she was quitting immediately-that very aft ernoon. Th e servant’s unlikely explanation for her abrupt departure was that “the Spirit” called her; she was “going East.” In all likelihood, since her emancipation from slavery 20 years earlier, Isabella Van Wagenen had worked as a housekeeper in the homes of a number of New York City middle-class white merchants. To many of them, and not just to Lucy Whiting, Isabella’s declaration might have seemed an act of lunacy. Th e 46-year-old black woman had fi rst been a “good slave,” and then a model domestic employee. Her abrupt decision probably seemed impetuous to Lucy Whiting. Lucy knew quite well that Isabella had no fi nancial resources, no pension or property, and no family to support her. Furthermore, at the age of 46, Isabella was old, and nearing the likely end of her productive years; it hardly seemed like an opportune moment in life to be traipsing off on a whim into an uncertain future.