Solomon Northup

Having been born a freeman, and for more than thirty years enjoyed the blessings of liberty in a free State -- and having at the end of that time been kidnapped and sold into Slavery, where I remained, until happily rescued in the month of January, 1853, after a bondage of twelve years -- it has been suggested that an account of my life and fortunes would not be uninteresting to the public.

That's how Solomon Northup begins Twelve Years a Slave, his 1853 memoir.

Northup grew up here in New York, in Washington County -- the son of Mintus Northup, who had gained freedom in the will of his Rensselaer County master and had gone on to accumulate enough land to vote and provide an education for his children. Solomon Northup got married and he and his wife eventually moved to a residence on Washington Street in Saratoga Springs. There he worked on the construction of the Troy and Saratoga railroad. He played the violin. And as that passage above mentions, he was kidnapped in Washington, DC, sold into slavery, ending up on plantations in Louisana. He was finally freed 12 years later via a process that involved the governor or New York.

It's a remarkable, harrowing story. The book is available online from archive.org -- it's well worth reading at least a few chapters. You might not be able to stop.

Northup's memoir is the basis for a new movie -- 12 Years A Slave -- that's scheduled to be released later this year. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, and the rest of cast includes Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard, Michael Fassbender, and a bunch of other actors you'll recognize. The trailer, just out this week, is embedded above.

Solomon Northup Day
This Saturday is Solomon Northup Day in Saratoga Springs. there will be a celebration of Northup's life at Skidmore's Filene Hall from noon-4 pm. Historians will be talking about Northup and the times in which he lived, and more than 40 of his descendants are scheduled to be there. it's free and open to the public.

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