"For sheer drama, few accounts of slavery match Solomon Northup's tale of abduction from freedom and forcible enslavement." --Ira Berlin, from the Introduction "When I read ["Twelve Years a Slave"] for the first time, it was like the first time I read Anne Frank's diary. And I wondered to myself, 'Why isn't this book on everyone's bookshelf.' . . . For me, it's a classic. It should be in every school." --Steve McQueen, director of the film adaptation of "Twelve Years a Slave, "in "Entertainment Weekly" "Frightening, gripping and inspiring . . . Northup's story seems almost biblical, structured as it is as a descent and resurrection narrative of a protagonist who, like Christ, was 33 at the time of his abduction. . . . Northup reminds us of the fragile nature of freedom in any human society and the harsh reality that whatever legal boundaries existed between so-called free states and slave states in 1841, no black man, woman or child was permanently safe." "--Henry Louis Gates, Jr., "The Root"" "A moving, vital testament to one of slavery's 'many thousands gone' who retained his humanity in the bowels of degradation. It is also a chilling insight into the 'peculiar institution.'" --"Saturday Review"
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About the Author
Solomon Northup was born a free man in Minerva, Essex County, New York in July 1808.
His father, Mintus Northup, was a freed slave, who took his surname from the family he had served. Mintus's master, Captain Henry Northup, granted Mintus his freedom in his will. After the death of Captain Northup, Mintus, as well as becoming a free man, also managed, later on, to gain the vote by virtue of meeting New York State's property requirements, an impressive feat for someone coming from such a humble background. Mintus died in 1829.
Solomon's mother – unnamed in the book – was a woman of mixed ancestry. There are only sketchy details about her in Solomon's memoir, but it is mentioned that she died while Solomon was held as a slave in the Deep South. Solomon described his mother as a quadroon, meaning she was one quarter black and three-quarters white.
In 1829, Solomon married Anne Hampton, a woman of African, European and Native American heritage, and together they had three children: Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Solomon Northup worked as a raftsman, carpenter, construction worker and a fiddler, and he and his family initially owned a farm in Hebron, Washington County, before moving to Saratoga Springs, New York to take advantage of better employment prospects. Whilst Solomon worked, mainly as a musician, Anne was employed intermittently as a cook for local taverns and for the United States Hotel.
In 1841, aged 32, Solomon Northup met with two men who called themselves Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton. After gaining his trust, they drugged him and sold him to slave trader, James Birch, and claimed that Solomon was a fugitive slave. Solomon was then taken to Louisiana, where he remained in slavery for twelve years. It is these twelve years of slavery that are reflected on in this compelling memoir.
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