"SOJOURNER TRUTH STRIDES THROUGH AMERICAN HISTORY LARGER THAN LIFE": EXCEPTIONAL 1875 EDITION OF THE NARRATIVE OF SOJOURNER TRUTH—THE FIRST TO FEATURE HER ENGRAVED IMAGE ON THE RARE ORIGINAL CLOTH BINDING AND AS FRONTISPIECE, CHOSEN BY HER & BASED ON HER FAVORITE AND MOST ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAIT
(SLAVERY) (GILBERT, Olive) TRUTH, Sojourner. Narrative of Sojourner Truth; A Bondswoman of Olden Time, Emancipated by the New York Legislature in the Early Part of the Present Century; With a History of her Labors and Correspondence, Drawn from her Book of Life. No place: Published for the Author, 1875. Octavo (5-1/4 by 7-3/4 inches), original gilt- and blind-stamped pictorial russet cloth. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $25,000.
Rare 1875 edition of Sojourner Truth's powerful account, which inspired a nation with the bold "evangelic fervor and plain wit" that characterized her moving struggle for freedom and women's rights. This exceptional edition is the first to display her favorite and "most famous" portrait from a carte-de-visite photograph taken circa 1864, personally chosen by her to be featured in the original cloth and as its engraved frontispiece portrait.
Sojourner Truth is one of the most "famous African American women of the 19th century" (Painter, Sojourner Truth, 3-4). "A legend in her own time," she was a tireless fighter against slavery and for women's rights: a figure whose "indomitable will has won her a permanent place in American history" (Blockson 29). This especially rare and important 1875 edition of Truth's Narrative stands out as the first to display her favorite and "most famous" portrait on the front and rear covers, and as its frontispiece. The image, personally chosen by her for this edition, is from a photograph taken circa 1864. It stands apart from her other portraits in revealing a "greater ease… we might say self-possession" in her facial expression and carriage: one where she presents herself "as a model for an emancipated, prosperous African American future, a model worthy of emulation" (Grigsby, Enduring Truths, 73-6). The oval gilt-stamped cover portrait, additionally seen in silhouette on the rear board, also appears more fully as the book's engraved frontispiece. With this portrait, as in so many aspects of her legacy, "Sojourner Truth strides through American history larger than life" (New York Times).
This enlarged edition, more than twice as long as the 1850 Narrative
, is also memorable as the first with a title that includes "Bondswoman of Olden Time" and for its expanded inclusion of the "Book of Life," which contains extensive printings of press reports, correspondence, autograph facsimiles, Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Libyan Sibyl," and one of the two best-known versions of Truth's Ar'n't I a Woman Speech. "There is no clear agreement among scholars as to which text of Truth's 1851 Akron speech should be viewed as the most authentic version" (Phillips-Anderson, Sojourner
, 26). "The oldest account of Truth's speech that provides more than a passing mention of it was published by Marius Robinson on June 21, 1851 in the Salem Anti-Slavery Bugle
… Truth's speech—the one that introduced the famous phrase 'Ar'n't I a woman?'—was constructed by Frances Dana Gage… [and] first appeared in the New York Independent
on April 23, 1863" (Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee). No version of Truth's 1851 speech appeared in the first edition of the Narrative
, which was issued in 1850. For this planned and much-expanded edition, Truth asked an abolitionist friend, Frances Titus, to assist in crafting it. In featuring Gage's version (133-35), Titus put the speech near the beginning, "making it already central to the way that Truth wished to be handed down to 'coming ages'" (Sánchez-Eppler, Review
, 151) Biographer Nell Painter "asserts that Gage amended Truth's speech" (Innis, While the Water is Stirring
Truth, born enslaved, was named "Isabelle" by her parents and developed deep religious feelings from her mother, from whom she was separated at age nine. In 1843 she renamed herself "Truth" for God, and "Sojourner" because she intended to "travel up and down the land," preaching and testifying. She became associated with Frederick Douglass and white abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, who authored the preface. Truth's Narrative first appeared in the virtually unavailable 1850 edition. Issued in russet cloth (this copy) and dark brown cloth; no priority established. Containing tipped-in "To the Reader" between title page and preface. Schomburg, 326.92.G. Howes G163. Blockson 3434. Blockson, Commented Bibliography 29. Work, 476. Jordan 634.2. Grigsby 157-58, 192n. This copy possesses a distinctive provenance in containing the laid-in bookplate of a Unitarian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as well as its inkstamp on the title page. Sojourner Truth made Battle Creek, Michigan her base for nearly three decades, and at her death in 1883 was buried in its Oak Creek Cemetery. "There are at least seven known paths that led slaves from various points in Michigan to the Canadian shore and it is estimated that 200 Underground Railroad stops existed throughout Michigan between the 1820s and 1865s" (Detroit Historical Society). While unconfirmed, this Unitarian Church may have been one of those stops This rare 1875 edition of Truth's Narrative particularly includes printings of articles from newspapers in Battle Creek and Detroit, as well as printings of correspondence from men and women in Kalamazoo, Detroit and other towns across Michigan. Faint trace of bookplate removal to front pastedown.
Interior quite fresh, only lightest edge-wear, trace of faint soiling to bright cloth. A handsome about-fine copy, exceedingly rare in original cloth.