In 1841, 33-year-old Solomon Northup was a free black man living comfortably in Saratoga, NY with his wife, Anne, and three children – Margaret, Elizabeth and Alonzo. After being lured with the promise of a job opportunity in Washington D.C., Northup was drugged and kidnapped, only to awaken chained in a dark dungeon, awaiting a fate of forced servitude in the harsh Confederate South. Once an educated and accomplished violinist living among those that admired him, Northup was stripped of his name and forced to work in the southern cotton fields of Louisiana as “Platt Hamilton.” His captors were paid $250 for his captivity.
Northup was born in either 1807 or 1808 in Minerva, Essex county, New York, to Mintus Northrup, a freed slave and Susannah Northup, a free woman of black and Indian heritage. He and his brother Joseph were raised near Granville, Washington County, until his father passed away in November 1829. That same year, on Christmas Day, Solomon wed Anne Hampton at age 21. The couple immediately bore children, and Solomon lived as a devoted husband and father until that day of April 7, 1841, when his entire life would change.
Throughout his years as a slave, Northup used his skill as a tradesman of many talents to survive. Forced to suppress his education, it was evident to slave masters that he was more exposed than the other slaves. This proved at a disadvantage to Northup. Within the span of three years, he had been bought and sold to three different owners: William Ford, John Tibaut and finally, Edwin Epps.
Finally, in 1852, with the help of a white Canadian carpenter that was hired by his last owner, Northup was able to get word to his friends and family back home in Saratoga of his whereabouts. His wife, Anne, knew he had been taken against his will, and had spent years looking for her husband. On January 3, 1853, Henry Northup, a friend of his father’s former slave owner, arrived on the Epps plantation to identify and vindicate Northup. Northup returned home to his family seventeen days later.
Though he attempted to go after his kidnappers, as a black man, he was unable to bring them to justice in court.
Now an abolitionist and assistant of the Underground Railroad, Northup recorded his experience in the book “12 Years a Slave” in 1853 with the help of attorney David Wilson. The autobiography would sell 17,000 copies in its initial release. The book contained intimate details of his capture and the unspeakable conditions endured by southern slaves.
On October 18, 2013, African American director Steve McQueen releases the film “12 Years A Slave”, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard and Kelsey Scott. The film is based upon the 1853 novel by Northup and is in select theaters nationwide.
View the “12 Years A Slave” trailer above.