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Solomon Northup

Solomon Northup Solomon Northup[1†]

Solomon Northup was an American abolitionist and the primary author of the memoir "Twelve Years a Slave"[1†]. He was born on July 10, 1807, in Schroon (now Minerva), New York[1†][2†]. As a free-born African American, he was the son of a freed slave and a free woman of color[1†]. Northup was a farmer and a professional violinist, and he had been a landowner in Washington County, New York[1†].

In 1841, he was offered a traveling musician’s job and went to Washington, D.C., where he was drugged and kidnapped into slavery[1†]. He was shipped to New Orleans, purchased by a planter, and held as a slave for 12 years in the Red River region of Louisiana, mostly in Avoyelles Parish[1†]. He remained a slave until he met Samuel Bass, a Canadian working on his plantation who helped get word to New York[1†]. His family and friends enlisted the aid of the Governor of New York, Washington Hunt, and Northup regained his freedom on January 3, 1853[1†].

His memoir, “Twelve Years a Slave,” published in 1853, was adapted and produced as the 1984 television film “Solomon Northup’s Odyssey” and the 2013 feature film “12 Years a Slave,” which won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, at the 86th Academy Awards[1†].

Early Years and Education

Solomon Northup was born on July 10, 1807, in what is now Minerva, New York[2†][1†]. His father, Mintus Northup, had been born into slavery but was freed following the death of his master, Capt. Henry Northup[2†]. Mintus eventually acquired his own farm and enough land to fulfill the property ownership requirement that African Americans faced in order to vote[2†].

Solomon received some education and worked on his family’s farm as a child[2†]. He married Anne Hampton in 1828[2†]. In 1834, after selling their farm, the couple moved to Saratoga Springs, New York, where they worked odd jobs to support their three children[2†]. Northup also established a reputation as a talented fiddler[2†].

This early period of Northup’s life was marked by his experiences as a free-born African American in New York, his work on his family’s farm, and his development as a musician. These experiences would later play a significant role in his life and influence his views on slavery.

Career Development and Achievements

Solomon Northup’s career was marked by his talents as a farmer, laborer, and musician[2†][1†]. He owned land in Washington County, New York, and had established a reputation as a talented fiddler[2†][1†][3†]. He entertained large audiences throughout rural New York[2†][3†].

In 1841, while seeking temporary employment in Saratoga Springs, New York, Northup was propositioned by Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton to play his violin at an event in New York City[2†][3†]. However, this turned out to be a ruse. Northup was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery[2†][1†]. He was shipped to New Orleans, purchased by a planter, and held as a slave for 12 years in the Red River region of Louisiana, mostly in Avoyelles Parish[2†][1†].

During his time in slavery, Northup endured unimaginable hardships. However, he never gave up hope. He eventually met Samuel Bass, a Canadian working on his plantation, who helped get word to New York[2†][1†]. With the aid of his family, friends, and the Governor of New York, Washington Hunt, Northup regained his freedom on January 3, 1853[2†][1†].

In his first year of freedom, Northup wrote and published a memoir, “Twelve Years a Slave” (1853)[2†][1†]. The memoir detailed his experiences and shed light on the brutal reality of slavery. It quickly became a bestseller[2†][1†]. From 1853 to 1857, Northup, now a national celebrity, engaged in extensive speaking tours[2†]. He gave more than two dozen speeches throughout the Northeast about his experiences, to build momentum against slavery[2†].

Despite the trials he faced, Northup’s resilience and determination led to significant contributions to the abolitionist movement. His memoir continues to serve as a powerful testament to human courage and the fight for freedom.

First Publication of His Main Works

Solomon Northup is best known for his memoir, Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River in Louisiana[2†][1†]. This work was published in 1853, the same year he regained his freedom[2†][1†]. The memoir provides a detailed account of his life, from his kidnapping in Washington, D.C., to his time as a slave in Louisiana, and finally his rescue and return to freedom[2†][1†].

Twelve Years a Slave is not just a narrative of Northup’s life but also a critique of the institution of slavery. It provides a first-hand account of the brutal conditions under which enslaved people lived and worked in the Southern United States[2†][1†]. The memoir has been praised for its vivid descriptions and its unflinching portrayal of the realities of slavery[2†][1†].

The memoir was so impactful that it was adapted and produced as the 1984 television film Solomon Northup’s Odyssey and the 2013 feature film 12 Years a Slave[2†][1†]. The latter won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, at the 86th Academy Awards[2†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Solomon Northup’s memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, is a profound critique of the institution of slavery[4†]. It provides a first-hand account of the brutal conditions under which enslaved people lived and worked in the Southern United States[4†]. The memoir has been praised for its vivid descriptions and its unflinching portrayal of the realities of slavery[4†].

Northup’s narrative is not just a recounting of his experiences but also an analysis of the system of slavery itself[4†]. His detailed descriptions of the harsh conditions, the inhuman treatment of slaves, and the moral corruption of the slaveholders all serve to expose the inherent brutality of slavery[4†].

His memoir also evaluates the impact of slavery on both the enslaved and the enslavers[4†]. Northup does not shy away from depicting the dehumanizing effects of slavery on the enslaved, nor does he spare the slaveholders from scrutiny. He portrays them as morally bankrupt individuals, corrupted by the power they wield over their fellow human beings[4†].

Northup’s work has had a significant impact on our understanding of slavery. His memoir is one of the most detailed and comprehensive accounts of slavery from the perspective of an enslaved person[4†]. It has served as a valuable resource for historians and has helped to shape public perceptions of slavery[4†].

His memoir was so impactful that it was adapted and produced as the 1984 television film Solomon Northup’s Odyssey and the 2013 feature film 12 Years a Slave[4†]. The latter won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, at the 86th Academy Awards[4†].

Personal Life

Solomon Northup was married to Anne Hampton in 1828[5†]. Anne was of African, European, and Native American descent[5†]. The couple lived in Fort Edward and Kingsbury, small communities in Washington County, New York, between 1830 and 1834[5†]. They had three children: Elizabeth, Margaret, and Alonzo[5†].

Northup’s personal life took a dramatic turn in 1841 when he was offered a traveling musician’s job and went to Washington, D.C., where slavery was legal[5†][1†]. There, he was drugged and kidnapped into slavery[5†][1†]. He was shipped to New Orleans, purchased by a planter, and held as a slave for 12 years in the Red River region of Louisiana, mostly in Avoyelles Parish[5†][1†]. He remained a slave until he met Samuel Bass, a Canadian working on his plantation who helped get word to New York, where state law provided aid to free New York citizens who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery[5†][1†]. Northup regained his freedom on January 3, 1853[5†][1†].

After regaining his freedom, Northup wrote and published his memoir, Twelve Years a Slave (1853)[5†][1†]. He lectured on behalf of the abolitionist movement, giving more than two dozen speeches throughout the Northeast about his experiences, to build momentum against slavery[5†][1†]. He largely disappeared from the historical record after 1857[5†][1†], and the details of his death have never been documented[5†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Solomon Northup’s life and experiences have had a significant impact on American history and culture. His memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, is a detailed and poignant account of his experiences as a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery[1†]. This work has been instrumental in shedding light on the brutal realities of slavery and has served as a powerful tool in the fight against racial injustice[1†].

Northup’s story was adapted into an award-winning film in 2013, further amplifying his experiences and contributions[1†]. The film, like the book, has been lauded for its unflinching portrayal of slavery and has sparked renewed interest in Northup’s life[1†][6†].

Despite his significant contributions, Northup largely disappeared from the historical record after 1857[1†]. The details of his death have never been documented[1†], and his later years remain shrouded in mystery[1†][7†]. However, his legacy lives on through his memoir and its adaptations, continuing to educate and inspire future generations[1†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Solomon Northup [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Solomon Northup: American farmer and writer [website] - link
  3. BlackPast - Solomon Northup (1808-?) • [website] - link
  4. LitCharts - Solomon Northup Character Analysis in 12 Years a Slave [website] - link
  5. African American Registry - Solomon Northup, Abolitionist, and Author born [website] - link
  6. History News Network - Why Solomon Northup’s Story Matters Today [website] - link
  7. New York Almanack - History Mystery: What Happened To Solomon Northup? [website] - link
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