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SOLOMON NORTHUP

1807-1863
American

"What difference is there in the color of the soul?"

Solomon Northup (July 1808–1863) was an American abolitionist and the author of the memoir Twelve Years a Slave. He was born a free African American in New York, his father was a freed slave and his mother was a free woman of colour. However, at the age of 33, he was kidnapped by slave traders, having been enticed to Washington D.C. (where slavery was legal) with a job offer as a violinist with traveling entertainers. Shortly after he arrived in Washington, his new employers drugged Northup into unconsciousness to facilitate their plan of kidnap. After they took him prisoner, they shipped to New Orleans where he was sold to a planter in Louisiana.

He was held in the Red River region of Louisiana by several different owners for 12 years. Aside from a brief communication when he was first kidnapped, his family and friends had no knowledge of his whereabouts. He attempted to get word to them and to regain his freedom, but the systems guarding slaves were too pervasive to allow it. Eventually, he confided in a Canadian working on his plantation, who opposed slavery and was willing to risk contacting Northup's family and friends. They enlisted the help of the Governor of New York whose policies advocated and provided aid for the cause - to free kidnapped New York citizens who had been sold and enslaved.

On January 3rd 1853, Northup regained his freedom and returned to his family in New York.

Later, Northup had the slave trader in Washington arrested and tried for his crimes. However, after various lengthy legal processes, Northup eventually admitted defeat in his endeavour for justice; at the time it was highly unlikely that a white man would ever go to prison for his crimes against a black man. As such, those responsible for kidnapping and enslaved Northup never received any form of punishment.

In his first year of freedom, Northup wrote and published his memoir, Twelve Years a Slave (1853). 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. He disappeared in 1857 (although a letter later reported him alive in early 1863); some commentators thought he had been kidnapped again, but historians believe it unlikely, as he would have been considered too old to bring a good price. The details of his death have never been known or documented.

Northup's memoir was adapted and produced as the 1984 PBS television movie entitled Solomon Northup's Odyssey, and the 2013 was brought to life on the big screen as a feature film named 12 Years a Slave. The latter won an Academy Award in 2014 for Best Picture.

TITLES BY SOLOMON NORTHUP

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