Local History: Solomon Northup & “12 Years a Slave”

Local History: Solomon Northup & “12 Years a Slave”

The story of Solomon Northup is nothing shy of tragic. A resident of Saratoga Springs, Northup was a free man, lured from his home, kidnapped and sold into slavery.  His story is one of tragedy and truly reflects one of the darkest times in our nation’s history, but moreover is a tale of incredible strength and courage in the face of true evil.

In the early 19th century, Solomon Northup owned a farm in Hebron, New York with his wife Anne and three children, Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo, but moved to Saratoga Springs in 1834 with hopes of finding employment and a better life for his family. Solomon was an excellent violin player, but still found work as a musician sporadic so he picked up whatever odd jobs he could, helping to build the Champlain Canal, working on the railroad and also as a skilled carpenter.  His wife was renowned as a cook and, when court was in session, would work at a coffee shop in the area now known as Hudson Falls.

In 1841, two men posing as circus performers approached Northup with the promise of work in New York City. With Annie in Hudson Falls and Solomon only expecting the trip to last a few days, he left without even sending word to her. Once in the city, the men convinced Northup to continue on with them to a performance in Washington DC. Aware of the booming slave trade in DC, Solomon was weary, but after retrieving his “free papers” he agreed to continue on.

After arriving in DC, Northup was drugged, stripped of his identification and shipped to New Orleans where he was purchased by a planter. For twelve years, he lived as a slave in the Red River region of Louisiana until a Canadian farmhand heard his tale and got word back to New York where friends and family worked with state law enforcement to finally win back his freedom.

Upon his return home, Solomon rejoined his wife and children and wrote his book, 12 Years a Slave. He became an outspoken abolitionist and traveled across the Northeastern United States and Canada, giving speeches and rousing support for federal emancipation. His tale, though horribly tragic and appalling, is one that should never be forgotten and stands as an important piece of our local and national history.

Photo credit Alatele fr. Used under the Creative Commons License.