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​Black History Month 2024

Welcome back. If you think it would be a challenge to find and celebrate the details of Black history here in Monroe, you’d be right to an extent. Of course, there were many Black families living and making history here in Monroe for generations, but very seldom was it captured in the newspapers of the day. To be honest, it can be frustrating, and I always make a point of saving the few details I can find. This year I’m very excited to share and celebrate Black history that has made a major impact on both Monroe and American history. Are you intrigued? Let the celebration begin!

Today’s Monroe history takes us to the Stepney Green. As you recently learned in a prior Monroe history spotlight, the Housatonic Railroad officially opened in 1840. It’s hard to imagine today the impact such an advancement in transportation made on our society. It didn’t take long before Upper Stepney and its public green were targeted as a convenient central location for the various social, political, and ecclesiastical events of the day. Many of you are probably aware of the Copperhead Peace Rallies held in 1861 and 1864, but it’s unlikely that you’ve ever heard of the history I’m about to share with you.

In August of 1843, a Millerite Camp Meeting was held on the Stepney Green. The Millerites were followers of the teachings of William Miller, a spirited preacher who enthusiastically shared his belief that the Second Advent of Jesus Christ would occur in 1843. Miller’s teachings and his Camp Meetings grew rapidly in popularity. During the event, the crowd stirred with fervid anticipation as they awaited the arrival of the event’s keynote preacher, Brother H. A. Chittenden from Hartford. He took to the stand and immediately launched into a fiery sermon, delivered with such authority that it whipped those in attendance into a fanatical frenzy. The end was surely near!

I’ve attached a period newspaper article that captured the details of the scene and I’m sure you’ll be as amazed as I was when you read it. There’s no question that the event had quickly escalated to dangerous levels of self-destructive behavior. Something clearly had to be done, and fast! One female devotee of the movement was emboldened to interrupt Chittenden’s speech and address the crowd from atop a nearby tree stump, reprimanding them for their shameful impiety and fanaticism. Her powerful delivery resonated with the crowd and shocked them back into a more serene display of spirituality and reflective prayer. A full-scale riot was averted. Ultimately, the Second Advent did not occur in 1843 as advertised.

This brave woman’s name was Isabella Baumfree, born into slavery in 1797 in Swartekill, New York. She escaped to freedom with her infant daughter in 1826 and legally gained her son’s freedom from slavery in 1828 - the first Black woman to win such a legal case against a slave owner in America. Those events and her calming effect on the crowd that day inspired her true calling to the abolitionist movement. After the Millerite Camp Meeting of 1843, she changed her given slave name and would thereafter be known as Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth devoted the remainder of her life to the abolishment of slavery and was an ardent supporter of women’s rights. She also encouraged Black men to join the fight for the Union cause during the Civil War, knowing it was the best path toward ending slavery in our nation. She traveled the countryside spreading her message with authority and even had an opportunity to meet with President Lincoln during the Civil War. There’s little doubt her determination made an impact. After decades of activism, Sojourner Truth died in 1883 at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan.

In 2016, a bronze bust of Sojourner Truth was unveiled in Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol, making her the first African American woman to have a memorial bust displayed there. Well, there you have it, Monroe history lovers, one of America’s most important and celebrated African American abolitionists began her inspired journey on the Stepney Green in our town of Monroe. I personally find this history fascinating!

I hope you enjoy this Black History Month spotlight on Sojourner Truth, the important significance of her work and its impact on our town and national history. I’m only touching on the high points here and I encourage you all to dive deeper into her fascinating history on your own. Please share this with your friends and family as I’m sure that everyone can appreciate this on multiple levels. As always, thank you for your continued support and interest in Monroe’s rich history. Until next time.


Kevin Daly
Historian, Monroe Historical Society
Our Past is Always Present

1 - Camp Meeting Article.jpg
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