Solomon Northup Biography

Solomon Northup, a renowned American abolitionist, gained immense recognition after the publication of his memoir “12 Years a Slave,” which later inspired the Academy Award-winning film of the same name. Born and raised as a free African-American in New York, Northup worked as a farmer and a talented violinist. However, his aspirations led him to Washington D.C., where he fell victim to a cruel scheme that resulted in his enslavement in New Orleans for a grueling 12 years. Fortunately, fate intervened when he encountered a compassionate Canadian who unraveled his past and aided in his liberation in 1853. Following his freedom, Northup dedicated his life to fighting against slavery, embarking on a journey across the nation to raise awareness. Although the details of his death in the mid-1860s remain shrouded in mystery, his legacy as a tireless advocate for freedom endures.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 55
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Anne Hampton (m. 1829), father: Mintus Northup, children: Alonzo Northup, Elizabeth Northup, Margaret Northup
  • Black Activists
  • Human Rights Activists
  • Died on: 1863
  • U.S. State: New Yorkers, African-American From New Yorkers

Childhood & Early Life

Solomon Northup’s birth date has been debated but a large chunk of historians believe it to be 10th July 1807, while many claim it was 1808. He was born to a freed black man named Mintus, who was the slave to the Northup family back in the days. He eventually gained his freedom and married another black woman and started his family.

Both Solomon and Joseph, Mintus Northup’s sons were born free as their mother was also a freed woman. The family did farming while Solomon gained an early interest in music, particularly in playing violin. Mintus legally owned a chunk of land and led a sufficiently good life despite being a former slave and fighting the racial discrimination that prevailed in the society.

Mintus took advantage of relatively liberal laws in New York and apart from managing to own a land of his own, he registered for the voting rights as well. He provided good enough education for both his sons, which wasn’t a norm back in the days even in the liberated parts of the country such as New York. Mintus and both of his sons worked in the farm with him and the family led a happy and content life for long until the tragedy struck them.

Solomon married Anne Hampton, a multi-racial partly black woman on 25th December 1929 and the couple gave birth to three children, Alonzo, Margaret and Elizabeth.

The Kidnapping & Slavery

Solomon’s reputation as a skilled fiddler was getting bigger by each passing day, but New York didn’t seem like an ideal place to make the full out of his musical talents. In the March of 1841 when he was 32 years old, he met two men who claimed to be working in a circus and told Solomon that they were hugely inspired by his talent and wanted him to work with them in Washington D.C.

Washington was a place where the slavery was going at its brutal best and Solomon left New York without notifying his wife Anne. The men claimed that it was a brief gig and the pay was good enough along with the money to make journey to DC and back. Solomon brought with himself the papers of his identification as a freedman as he was rightly apprehensive about moving to a place which had the largest slave market in the country.

It turned out to be an unfortunate decision on Solomon’s part to trust these two men as on route, he was drugged, beaten and sold into slavery in Louisiana. He was beaten very badly and threatened to not speak of his status as a free man. During the sales negotiations, his captors told the buyers that he was from Georgia. On his way to the slave market, he managed to persuade the English Sailor to send a letter to Henry Northup, the son of former owner of his father. Henry didn’t know exact location of Solomon and hence he couldn’t do anything.

Solomon was then sold in the New Orleans slave market to William Prince Ford, who ran a little farm in Louisiana. Regarding William, Solomon wrote that Ford was one of the noblest white men he ever encountered. Ford’s narrow mindedness about slavery was a result of his surroundings and associations with certain people.

Northup put his carpentry skills to a great use in Ford’s farm and felt appreciated for his talents. But Ford couldn’t afford many slaves on his farm and sold them off, with Solomon getting purchased by John M. Tibaut. Tibuat was a bad man and tried to humiliate Solomon on several occasions and when Solomon fought back, he tried to even kill him. Ford, his previous owner, saved him. Tibaut then sold Solomon to Edwin Epps, who then held Solomon for the next 10 years.

In 1852, a Canadian man Samuel Brass came to work at Epps’ plantation and befriended Solomon. He was the first person that Solomon told his true story and name to and asked for help. Samuel went out of his way to help Solomon and contacted his friends and relatives in Saratoga Springs. Henry Northup came down south and finally freed Solomon referencing the New York state laws.

Freedom & Legacy

In the same year that he got released, Solomon Northup wrote down his experiences in a memoir called ’12 Years a Slave.’ The write-up was known for its detailed and thought provoking writing style and became one of the most important documents aiding the abolitionist movement. It also inspired several black leaders to bring their fight against slavery to the next level.

Northup then rejoined his wife and children in New York and continued working as a carpenter. He had become a famous man and the face of a new era in American history, where the evil practice of slavery was dragging its final breaths. He gave more than two dozen lectures across the north-eastern United States and also helped many slaves to abandon their masters and flee to Canada.

He continued his work towards the abolitionist movement and got disappeared from public life suddenly in 1857 and it is believed widely that he died around 1863. Sadly enough, he couldn’t see his country where Africans-Americas were considered equal to the whites in social status. Since his death, several writers and filmmakers have tried to adapt his story into their works. One of the most accomplished of them is the film ’12 Years a Slave’ , directed by Steve McQueen, a British director. Solomon’s memoir was reprinted and republished in 1869, a few years after his demise. ‘Solomon Northup Day: A Celebration of Freedom’ is being celebrated annually in Saratoga Springs in honour of Solomon.

Leave a Comment