Solomon Northup: His Kidnapping and Escape from Slavery

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In 1841, criminals seduced a free black New Yorker named Solomon Northup into slave territory by the promise of a job. There, they illegally sold him as a slave. When he protested to the slave dealer that he was free, the dealer beat him. He would learn no to assert his freedom, but over the next twelve years he attempted to free himself on several occasions, all of which failed until the last, successful effort.

On Northup's journey to Louisiana, he met Arthur and Robert who were also going to be sold as slaves. The three devised a plot whereas they would overtake the boat, kill if necessary, the captain and crew and guide the vessel back to New York. They “resolved to regain our liberty or lose our lives.” (46) This plot never came to fruition, as Robert became ill and died of smallpox. The three men had previously determined that the other slaves were not to be trusted, and they had to carry this out themselves. With Robert now deceased, there was no other choice but to forgo their attempt.

Northup was purchased at the slave market to a planter named Ford. However, because of Ford's financial difficulties, he sold Northup to cover his debt. Northup was working with his new owner, who was very harsh. An argument ensued over the way Northup was planing. Tibeats began throwing axes and hatchets at Northup. Northup responded in a physical manner. It appeared as though, to save his own life, Northup would have to take Tibeats's, which would mean certain hanging for Northup. If a slave took his owner's life it was a capital offense. Instead he “leaped a fence near by, and hurried across the plantation,” thus making his first escape attempt (102). He was chased through the bayou and swamp by both men and dogs....

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...behalf of the kidnappers, and Northup's own testimony being deemed inadmissible by the court, both led to the dismissal of the charges. By filing the suit, Northup was able to shine a light on “the burning sense of the wrong” they had inflicted upon him (251).

Northup's nightmare of twelve years in slavery was over. He returned home to Connecticut. Northup's wife told him of a day his daughters arrived from school inconsolable. They had seen pictures of slaves in a cotton field being followed by an overseer with a whip. “It reminded them of the sufferings their father might be, and as it happened, actually was, enduring in the South.” (252) Twelve years in slavery, yet his family had “still held me in constant remembrance” (252). Northup and his family were finally free.

Works Cited

Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave. Louisiana University Press
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