Who is Solomon Northup?
Solomon Northup was born in July 10, 1808 in Minerva, New York. His father, Mintus, was once a slave himself but was released into freedom due to the death of his former slave owner or “master”. Solomon Northup and his brother, Joseph, grew up knowing freedom. Growing up, Solomon would help his father out on the farm. He also enjoyed reading and playing the violin. In 1829, at the age of 21, Solomon Northup married Anne Hampton on Christmas Day. Anne Hampton was a woman of multi-racial decent, or interracial. During his marriage to Anne, they went on to have three children whom were named Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. In 1832, Solomon and Anne establish a farm in Kinsbury. Solomon also already had a reputation in the community of being one of the finest and most excellent fiddlers. His wife, Anne, was also able to bring in an income with her in-demand cooking skills. Being that they did well financially, the Northup family was able to sell their farm in Kinsbury and move to Saratoga Springs in 1834.
While living in Saratoga, Solomon worked at the United States Hotel along with some other jobs. In March of 1841, Solomon Northup was recruited by two men claiming to have affiliations with the circus. They offered him money to be a part of their circus act. They wanted Solomon to join their act as a fiddler. They informed him that they would be travelling South from New York. In early April, as they reached close to their arrival in Washington D.C., Solomon Northup was drugged and lost consciousness. He later woke up in shackles in an underground cell. Solomon was taken to Richmond, Virginia then was later delivered to New Orleans, Louisiana by ship. In June, Solomon Northup was sold at a slave market under the name Platt Hamilton. Solomon Northup was forced into slavery for twelve years in the Bayou Boeuf plantation region of central Louisiana’s Red River Valley. When he first entered slavery, Solomon, now known as Platt Hamilton, was owned by William Prince Ford. Solomon praised Ford simply because of his kindness.
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In 1842, Ford was forced to sell Solomon because of financial debts. John M. Tibaut became Solomon’s new owner. Solomon was his only slave and Tibaut was brutal towards him. When attempting to whip Solomon, he resisted and fought Tibaut back. Tibaut then went on to find help from neighboring overseers. While attempting to lynch Solomon, he was rescued by Ford’s overseer, Anderson Chafin. Solomon then engaged in another fight with Tibaut, in which after he fled to Ford for protection. Ford demanded that Tibaut sell or lease Solomon. In 1843, Solomon Northup was sold to Edwin Epps. Solomon stayed under the leadership of Edwin Epps for the next decade. Edwin Epps used Solomon as an artisan slave and also a field hand. Solomon was occasionally leased out to sugar planter and processors. Solomon Northup was often a “driver” which meant he was in charge of the other slaves. Several times, Solomon tried to escape from Epps’ farm but unfortunately, he failed. It wasn’t until June of 1852 that Solomon Northup had a real chance on escaping slavery.
An abolitionist, Samuel Bass, from Canada went to visit Epps’s farm. Solomon gave Samuel Bass letters for his friends back in New York. Solomon wrote these letters to alert them of his current situation and condition. One of the letters were forwarded to his wife, Anne Northup. Anne soon sought help of Henry B. Northup. Henry was a lifelong friend of Solomon’s. Henry was also the grandnephew of the man who helped Solomon’s father, Mintus, gain freedom. Henry B. Northup did everything he could when it came to freeing Solomon. He gained widespread support for Solomon from the leading citizens of Sandy Hills, now known as Hudson Falls. He also gained the support of those living in Fort Hudson, New York. In November of 1852, Governor Washington Hunt made Henry B. Northup an agent of the State of New York to find Solomon. With a plethora of documentation and letters from a Senator and Supreme Court Justice, Henry was able to travel to Louisiana and hire a local lawyer. Samuel Bass also stepped in and help.
With the help of Bass, they were finally able to locate Solomon Northup and grant him legal freedom on January 4, 1853. In late January of 1853, Solomon Northup finally reunited with his family. His freedom was widely publicized all over. On his journey back home to New York, Solomon made a stop in Washington D.C. While in Washington D.C., Solomon brought charges against James H. Birch. Birch was the slave dealer who had jailed Solomon. Due to his race, Solomon Northup could not testify against James H. Birch. The case was then dismissed after two other slave dealers testified on behalf of Birch. Also, in the year of 1853, Solomon Northup wrote a book of his hardships and journey as a slave with the help of local writer, David Wilson.
They later named the book, Twelve Years a Slave. Solomon’s book sold over thirty thousand copies in the first three years. Solomon used the proceeds received from the book sales to purchase property in upstate New York, in which he lived with his family. Solomon Northup soon became a national celebrity. From the years of 1853 and 1857, Solomon engaged in a series of speaking tours. The New York kidnappers were identified, arrested and indicted in 1854, as a result of the story’s widespread notoriety. The case reached Supreme Court level and then Court of Appeals but the charges were then dismissed in 1857. Northup eventually disappeared from public view. Some have said he joined the Underground Railroad and spent years in New England helping escaped slaves into Canada. The time, place, and circumstances of Solomon Northup’s death is unknown, as well as his burial site. His last public appearance was in Streetsville, Ontario, Canada in August of 1857. Solomon Northup was not accounted for in the United Census of 1860. His wife, Anne Northup, died in 1876 and it is certain she passed before him. Twelve Years a Slave still remains one of America’s most important slave narratives. It is used as a valuable source of information regarded the everyday lives of slaves in central Louisiana, including Christmas celebratory practices in slave culture. Its shrewd but noncontroversial judgements of people have been commented on more than several times from the day it was published. Solomon Northup’s memoir also provided the basis for director, Gordon Parks, television documentary, Solomon Northup’s Odyssey in 1984 and also director Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave in 2013.