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Solomon Northup was an African-American farmer and musician who was taken hostage and sold into slavery in 1841; his story is told in the film 12 Years a Slave.
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Born in July 1808 in Minerva, New York, Solomon Northup grew up a free man, working as a farmer and violinist while having a family. He was lured south and kidnapped in 1841 and enslaved for more than a decade, enduring horribly violent conditions. Northup was freed in 1853 with help from colleagues and friends. His experiences are the subject of the book and film 12 Years a Slave.
"Blow after blow was inflicted on my naked body. When his unrelenting arm grew tired, he stopped and asked if I still insisted I was a free man. I did insist upon it, and then the blows were renewed, faster and more energetically, if possible, than before."
"While living at the United States Hotel, I frequently met with slaves, who had accompanied their masters from the South. ... Almost uniformly I found they cherished a secret desire for liberty. Some of them express the most ardent anxiety to escape..."
"I could not comprehend the justice of that law, or that religion, which upholds or recognizes the principle of Slavery; and never once, I am proud to say, did I fail to counsel any one who came to me, to watch his opportunity, and strike for freedom."
Solomon Northup was born in July 1808 in Minerva, New York. His father Mintus had once been enslaved but was released upon his former master's death, and hence Solomon and his older brother Joseph grew up knowing freedom. Northup worked with his father on a farm growing up, and also took to books and playing the violin.
On Christmas Day in 1829, Northup wed Anne Hampton, a woman of multi-racial descent. The couple went on to have three children—Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Solomon and Anne established a farm in 1832 in Kingsbury, with Northup also having a reputation in the community as the most excellent of fiddlers. With his wife also able to earn income for her in-demand cooking skills, the couple did well and moved to Saratoga Springs in 1834, where Northup worked at the United States Hotel, among other jobs.
While seeking employment in March of 1841, Northup met two men who said they were affiliated with a circus. Initially only intending to accompany the men to New York and provide violin accompaniment for their act, Northup was convinced to travel with them further south to Washington, D.C. There he was drugged by the men, held captive, severely beaten and sold into slavery in Louisiana.
Northup was forced to do a variety of tasks while in captivity and never revealed to his peers that he had once lived free for fear of him being sent farther away. He observed and later recounted the plight of others like Eliza, whose young son Randall was sold and taken away from her at an auction in New Orleans.
Northup was eventually sold in 1843 to Edwin Eppes, residing in Bayou Beouf. The standards under which Northup survived there were barbaric, with those enslaved forced to endure vile, horribly violent conditions. Northup also came to know Patsey, who was targeted by the sexually abusive Eppes while having to fear attacks from his hate-filled wife; her story represented the ordeals of many women subjugated in the slavery system.
Samuel Bass, an anti-slavery Canadian carpenter visiting the Beouf plantation, befriended Northup and reached out to friends of the musician back in Saratoga Springs, looking for verification that he had been a free member of the community. Lawyer Henry B. Northup, who was part of the family from which Mintus and his clan took their name, travelled south and facilitated Solomon's release in 1853.
The same year Northup published the slave narrative/memoir Twelve Years a Slave, partially based on letters he'd written while in captivity. The work, known for its meticulousness and thoughtful quality, became a top seller and aided the abolitionist cause, later becoming an important, public historical document.
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