Life was very hard in the days of slavery for all African Americans. The Civil war would not come to pass for another sixty years and there were few whites who opposed slavery. .
Isabella Bomefree was born around 1797 on the estate of a Dutch patroon ("a landholder in New Netherland who, under Dutch colonial rule, was granted proprietary")(Webster's dictionary). in Ulster County, New York, where her parents were slaves. Her first language was Dutch, and she would speak with an accent all her life. One of the formative events of her early childhood was witnessing her parents' grief over the loss of children who had been sold away. When she was nine Isabella herself was sold, and she was sold several more times in her early life.
She worked from 1810 to 1827 in the household of John J. Dumont of New Paltz, New York. There she married a fellow slave named Thomas, with whom she had at least five children: two daughters and a son were sold away from her. When Dumont demanded that she serve another year after New York declared slavery illegal, Sojourner escaped. That year she also became a Christian; her religious commitments, combined with a deep knowledge of the Bible, would influence her profoundly throughout her life. Isaac and Maria Van Wagener took her in, and she adopted their last name. .
With the help of Quaker friends she successfully sued her former owner for the return of her son Peter, who had been sold illegally to an Alabama planter. Around 1829 Isabella Van Wagener moved to New York City with her two youngest children, Peter and Sophia. She joined the Methodist Church which eventually inspired her own mystical faith. Throughout her life she would hear voices and see visions. .
In the 1830s Isabella moved to a commune in Ossining, New York, remaining there for five years. She eventually returned to New York City, where she lived quietly and attended the African Zion Church, until 1843, when an inner voice told her to change her name to Sojourner Truth.