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Known Biographical Data

Solomon Northup was a free-born African-American mulatto. He was born in July 1808 in Minerva, Essex County, New York. He disappeared in 1863 and his date of death is unknown.

Family History

His father, Mintus Northup, spent the early part of his life as a slave to the Northup family originally from Rhode Island who relocated to New York. The slave owning Northups relocated to Hoosick in Rensselaer County, New York. Upon the death of Mr Northup, Mintus Northup was manumitted (freed) by his will, and moved to Minerva where Solomon and his was born as free persone, not a slave. He had an older son named Joseph, but became a widower sometime afterwards. Mintus was a farmer and worked hard to provide an education for his two sons; Solomon's level of education was considered high for freed blacks in New York at the time, but it is for this reason that Solomon read, wrote, managed his own farm and played th violin well. His father's last residence was on the road leading from Fort Edward (from War of 1763) to Argyle. He died in November 1829, and his grave is located in Hudson Falls Baker Cemetery.


On Christmas 1829 Solomon Northup married Anne Hampton, with whom he had three children named Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. He was successful with his farm & music, but sold his farm and relocated his family to Saratoga Springs, New Yorkmarker, where he continued working, though not as successful as previously.

Luring Solomon South

One day two men who called themseves Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton agreed to hire Solomon when he was introduced to them as he was looking for work in Saratoga. They offered Solomon a job in a travelling circus, offering to pay him the rate one dollar per day and three dollars per musical performance, which was a good wage. They convinced Northup to travel with them to Washington D.C. where the circus was. Solomon believed the trip would be short and did not notify his wife. She would not hear from again for several years. He made a stop in New York City where he obtained his Free Papers, which were needed to prove his status as a free man; this was always a concern, but more so when he travelled to Washington DC, as it had slavery and some of the nation's larger slave markets.

Kidnapping in Washington DC

He arrived in Washington the evening of Tuesday April 5, 1841 the before President Harrison's funeral in Washington DC. They stayed at Gadsby's Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, and was presumably drugged several days later. He was in and out of consciousness for days, but when he regained conciousness , he realized he had been kidnaped. He was chained and locked in the basement of the Yellow House, which was one of several sites where African Americans were sold on the National Mall in DC. Another was Robey’s Tavern; these slave markets were located between the Department of Education and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, within view of the Capitol, according to researcher Jesse Holland, and Solomon's own account.

Forced Sale & Recovery

Solomon was severly beaten and threatened with death until he was forced to stop saying he was a free man; he became the slave of James H. Burch. Burch insisted that Northup was a runaway slave from Georgia and sold him as such; Solomon was forced to do this, and was unable to stop the sale. He was shipped to New Orleans and sold as a slave to two different slave owners; one was William Ford and the other Edwin Epps.

Life as a Slave

He suffered severly, being forced to eat the meager slave diet, live on the dirt floor of a slave cabin, endure numerous beatings, being attacked with an axe, whippings and unimaginable emotional pain from being in such a terrible state.


Though slaves were never allowed send letters, he managed to convince an English sailor he met on one of the boats he was on to send a letter to his family, informing them of his ilegal abduction & servitude. His wife received the letter, and a local lawyer who reviewed New York state laws. This lawyer, Henry B. Northup, was a member of the family that had once owned Solomon's father (See Northup p 19).

On May 14, 1840 the state of New York passed a law stating that if a free black resident was unlawfully captured and used as a slave, he must be recovered; the lawyer used this law, but was unable act as he did not know exactly where Solomon was located; he only knew he had been sold to New Orleans. It was not until a travelling Canadian carpenter named Samuel Bass whom he befriended secretly wrote to his family several years later, providing additional details of his location that they could proceed; he did this at great cost to himself, as he very likely (as Solomon says) would have been killed if the secret became known before the intervention of the NY governor in cooperation with the senator and local authorites of Louisiana. On January 4, 1853 Solomon was freed.

Court Cases

One of the very few to be restored to freedom under such corcumstances, he later sued the men involved in selling him (not the men in the circus as they could not be found) but could not give evidence in the case as he was black. One of them then sued Solomon with dubious charges, and now Solomon had to defend himslef in court; they dropped the charges and Solomon went free. The New York Times published an article on this trial on January 20, 1853.


Solomon Northup wrote an account of his experiences, Twelve Years a Slave (1853), out of copyright and available for free on Guttenberg and google books.

Life as a Freed Man

He became involved in the abolitionist movement and lectured on slavery in the North-Eastern US.

No known records on Northup exist after 1863 and the date, location and circumstances of his death are unknown.

Enigma of his death

Northup was reportedly mentioned in the 1860 Federal US census with the following address:

Town: Queensbury,County: Warren,State: NY,P.O. Glens Falls.

He was absent from the 1865 New Yorkmarker census but his wife Ann was reportedly still living at the same address at that time.

The best available evidence indicates that he disappeared in 1863 while staying in Boston, Massachusettsmarker to give lectures. Many of those researching his disappearance have formed the opinion that Northup may have been kidnapped or killed by persons unknown while in Boston. Others feel that the sudden disappearance of a well known public figure would have been noticed and since his health was probably declining due to his years of captivity under harsh conditions, he may simply have died of natural causes.

In 1968, the Louisiana historian and professor Sue Eakin published an edited version of Northup's diary.

In 1984, Twelve Years a Slave was adapted into a PBS television movie entitled Solomon Northup's Odyssey, directed by Gordon Parks. Northup was portrayed by a then-relatively unknown Avery Brooks.

Every year Saratoga Springs has the Annual Solomon Northup Day. At The Saratoga Springs Visitor Center located on the Corner of Congress and Broadway. He still has descendents today living in the US. The Library of Congress has further information on its webpage.



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