Solomon Northup

Solomon Northup

Solomon Northup was a citizen of New York who was kidnapped in Washington city in 1841 and rescued in 1853 from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana.

Solomon Northup born July 1808 …died after 1857 was a free-born Black from Saratoga Springs, New York. He is noted for having been kidnapped in 1841 when enticed with a job offer. When he accompanied his supposed employers to Washington, DC, they drugged him and sold him into slavery. From Washington, DC, he was transported to New Orleans where he was sold to a plantation owner from Rapides Parish, Louisiana.

After 12 years in bondage, he regained his freedom in January 1853; he was one of very few to do so in such cases. Held in the Red River region of Louisiana by several different owners, he got news to his family, who contacted friends and enlisted the Governor of New York in his cause. New York state had passed a law in 1840 to recover Black residents who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery.

Northup sued the slave traders in Washington, DC, but lost in the local court. District of Columbia law prohibited him as a Black man from testifying against whites and, without his testimony, he was unable to sue for civil damages. However, the two men were charged with the crime of kidnapping and remanded into custody on $5000 bail. However, without Northup’s testimony, a conviction could not be secured and the men were released. Returning to his family in New York, Northup became active in abolitionism.

He published an account of his experiences in Twelve Years a Slave… circa 1853 in his first year of freedom. Northup gave dozens of lectures throughout the North-East on his experiences as a slave, in order to support the abolitionist cause. The circumstances of Northup’s death are uncertain and no contemporary record of him exists from after 1857.

Solomon Northup’s memoir was reprinted several times later in the 19th century. An annotated version was published in 1968, edited by Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon. Since 1999, Saratoga Springs, New York, has celebrated an annual Solomon Northup Day.

12 Years a Slave is a 2013 historical drama film, adaptation directed by Steve McQueen and written by John Ridley. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup. 12 Years a Slave premiered at the Telluride Film Festival on August 30, 2013. The film was given a limited release in the United States on October 18, 2013, with a nationwide release scheduled for November 1, 2013

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