The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave states Solomon Northup was born on July 10th, 1807 in Schroon, New York, as a free person of color. He grew up in Washington County and is best well-known for being an American farmer, laborer, and musician. Northup did repairs on the Champlain Canal, received contracts to carry materials for it, and often played the fiddle during local dances. It is likely that he also worked on canal boats near the Eerie Canal in central and western New York state.
Mintus Northup, his father, was born into slavery, but emancipated after the his master Captain Henry Northup died, who wrote in his will that the slaves he owned be manumitted. Solomon’s father purchased a farm, which was large enough to fill the property ownership requirement for blacks to vote. Northup received some education at a young age and helped on his father’s farm. He married Anne Hampton in 1828 and eventually had three children. In the year 1834, he sold the farm and moved to Saratoga Spring, New York, where he assisted in building a railroad for the community. He worked odd jobs for some hotels in the area and quickly became known for his talent with the fiddle. This is a key fact that would shape the following years for him.
Northup enjoyed over thirty years of liberty and freedom in the free state of New York. In March, 1841, he was approached by a pair of men who told Northup they were circus performers, and offered to pay him to join as a fiddler then travel south from New York. He agreed and departed without telling his wife. Shortly after he arrived in Washington, D.C., in April, he was drugged with liquor and fell unconscious, only to wake up in handcuffs in an underground cell where he was held captive as a slave. After, he was shipped to Richmond, Virginia, then sent off by boat to New Orleans, Louisiana. In June, Northup was auctioned off at a slave market for $650 and renamed Platt Hamilton. For the next twelve years, Northup would remain in the Bayou Boeuf plantation region of Red River Valley in central Louisiana. His wife and children had no way of finding out where he was.
William Prince Ford, the man who purchased Northup, ran a lumber mill. Northup later praised Ford for his kindness in his book. Unfortunately for Northup, Ford had no choice but to sell him to the ruthless John M. Tibaut in 1842 due to financial circumstances. Northup refers to him as “Tibeat” and was his only slave. However, Ford maintained forty percent ownership as the sale was to repay a debt owed to Tibaut, but was not worth the whole amount of Northup. One day Tibaut tried to whip him but Northup resisted and fought him, which led to further punishment. The angry Tibaut went to get help from neighboring bystanders to beat Northup. Instead, Northup was saved by a nearby ally, Anderson Chafin. After several fights, Northup fled to Ford’s protection, who ordered Tibaut either sell or lease him.
Finally in April of 1843, Northup was sold to Edwin Epps, who he would work for the next ten years. He was both a field hand and an artisan slave, and was sometimes rented out to sugar planters and processors. He was often a driver, or a person in charge of the other slaves. There was a period of time where Epps went through a more aggressive phase, during which Northup attempted to run away a few times but failed.
In June of 1852, an abolitionist carpenter by the name of Samuel Bass, who came from Canada to visit Epp’s farm, took Northup’s letters to deliver them to his friends and tell them of what happened so he could be rescued. One of the letters made it back to his wife, Anne, who, with the help of Northup’s longtime friend and grandnephew of Mintus’ owner, Henry B. Northup, was determined to rescue Northup.
Henry gathered a lot of support from people at Sandy Hill (currently Hudson Falls) and Fort Edward, New York, to save Northup. In 1852, Governor Washington Hunt made Henry an agent of the State of New York to rescue Northup under an 1840 statute created to save New York citizens sold into slavery. Henry traveled to Louisiana with letters from a Supreme Court justice and a senator. Bass also hired a local counsel. Northup was found and legally freed on January 4th of 1853. His kidnapping gained a lot of press coverage. One New York Times article headlined.
Later in January, Northup returned to his family and word of his rescue spread quickly. On his way home, he stopped in Washington, D.C. to charge James H. Birch, the man who had tricked him into slavery. Unfortunately for Northup, he was not permitted to testify against a white person under Washington law because he was African-American. The case was dismissed after two different slave dealers testified on Birch’s behalf. Also in 1853, David Wilson, a local writer, and Northup wrote his book Twelve Years a Slave. Within only three years, the memoir sold over thirty-thousand copies which Northup used the money to buy land in upstate New York to live with his family.
During this time, Northup quickly gained fame and went on long speaking tours as a result of his widespread notoriety. In 1854, those who held Northup as a slave were found and arrested. A New York state judge remembered seeing two white men traveling to Washington with Northup and came back without him. Their names were Joseph Russell and Alexander Merrill. In July of the same year, a case was brought against them in the state of New York where Northup was allowed to testify. However, the case was ultimately dismissed for unclear reasons in May of 1857 after going through the state supreme court and later the court of appeals for two years.
The owners of the plantations he had worked on were fully protected from legal action against them because, The men who tricked Northup into ‘joining the circus’ remain a mystery.
During this time, Northup vanished from the public eye and is believed to have joined the Underground Railroad to spend a few years in New England helping slaves flee to Canada. He was last seen in August of 1857 in Ontario, Canada, and details of his death are unknown. It is likely he died before his wife Anne died in 1876, and he was not counted in the 1860 consensus.
Today, Twelve Years a Slave is a best selling slave narrative that offers an inside look on what being a slave in central Louisiana was like. Since 1999, Saratoga Springs has celebrated an annual holiday known as Solomon Northup Day. In addition, director Steve McQueen released a film 12 Years a Slave in 2013.
Solomon Northup: The Complete Story makes a great contribution to an inside look on an integral piece of American history that affected the entire culture of the country. After reading the book, I truly agree with this statement. The book integrated many different sources and gathered information from a wide variety, which provided a full biography of Solomon Northup rather than a story retold or a remixed edition of Northup’s book. There is a lot of information about his early life in New York and what he did after he regained his freedom, which is hard to find elsewhere. The authors may have focused a little too much on Northup’s early life as this does not have too much importance to the main events of the book, but I understand the significance of setting up a back story of his life and writing the beginning of the book as it is a biography.
I often find it is difficult to read history books particularly because they contain a lot of information and tend to use a lot of statistics that are hard to remember. However, the authors write the book in a captivating way. Illustrations aid the writers in visually getting the point across and also adds breaks in the writing. Among these illustrations include maps of areas described in the book, such as Washington, D.C. and Sandy Hill, New York, certification of Mintus Northup’s free citizen status, pictures of the kidnapping of free blacks, portraits of names mentioned, such as Henry Bliss Northup, and other key events and people.
In addition to illustrations, the authors use strong diction and emotional phrases to tell the story. For example, the book describes Tibaut as There were several points throughout the book that truly illustrated how brutal slavery really was, and the fact that so many peoples’ lives were simply bought and sold as if they were inanimate objects. One excerpt describing Ford said he was a decent human being and, I feel this truly demonstrates how whites were matter-of-fact about the business of slaves and regarded them as less of a human than themselves. Also, the fact that Ford retained 40% of Northup after he had been sold to Tibaut is astonishing. Blacks were truly degraded and whites boiled their lives down to owning them as property and took away their rights as human beings. The idea of buying and selling people is completely immoral and absurd that anyone thought this way okay at any point in time.
Northup’s story is particularly compelling and the events that took place from the time he met the supposed circus performers to his freedom are unfortunate, but truly demonstrate how brutally blacks were treated. When I read that Northup was drugged and lost consciousness, I felt shocked that people would go to such extremes to enslave a black man who was already free. Whites were determined to suppress blacks and keep them in captivity for as long as they could and were willing to go to extremes to do so. The tone remains dramatic throughout, which is appropriate for the subject matter. This also keeps it intriguing and demands readers’ attention at all times.
The structure of the book makes the information clear and concise in chronological order, which makes sense. The book opens with an overview that acts as a sneak peek for what the book is about. An entire chapter is dedicated to his early life, the kidnapping, his journey south, how he got through it, his rescue, then how Northup shared his story and sought justice. The book ends with the Underground Railroad, financial problems and finally the mystery about the end of his life. Overall, it was an easy read and demanded my attention throughout. I was interested the whole time because the authors provided excellent research and insight. I would definitely recommend this book to a friend looking to learn more about slavery and the mid 1800s.
I always knew a lot about slavery from previous history classes including this class, but after reading this book I feel like I learned things that you cannot learn from simply learning facts about history. This book offered a third-person look at a slave’s life as well as the brutality and hardships Northup faced. I am interested in learning more about Northup but I feel this book gives a great comprehensive timeline of his life. This is a well-written, thought out piece of history that tells an inspiring story about just how strong a person can be.