The movie 12 Years a Slave is based on the novel of the same name which was written by Solomon Northup. It is a powerful movie that won three academy awards and enjoyed critical acclaim. The novel was a record of Solomon’s experiences as a slave after he had been kidnapped. While a large number of slaves had the misfortune of being born into servitude, Solomon was born as a free man in New York who lost his wife, three children, and liberty at the hands of a pair of slave catchers named Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton.
Solomon spent 12 terrible years as a slave in Louisiana. The book Twelve Years a Slave outlines the horrors he endured and witnessed during his time in servitude. It is a harrowing account of violence, sexual abuse, and murder as the ex-slave refused to hold back. Eventually, he managed to escape with the aid of friends and worked with the Underground Railroad to help slaves reach freedom in Canada. His novel helped the abolitionist cause and is still regarded as a critical historical document.
Solomon was born in Essex County, New York in either July 1807 or 1808. His mother was a free woman of color while his father, Mintus, was a freed slave having worked for the Northup family. When Captain Henry Northup died, he manumitted Mintus in his will. The principle of partus sequitur ventrem declared that a child’s slave status followed that of its mother which meant Solomon and his brother, Joseph, were both freemen.
Given that black people were subject to strict state property requirements in New York at the time, it is clear that the Northup’s were reasonably well off because Mintus saved enough money to purchase land. As a result, he met the requirement and was eligible to vote. The family also had enough money to provide Joseph and Solomon with a relatively high standard of education.
Solomon married Anne Hampton in either 1828 or 1829, and they continued to live in New York State. The couple had three children and owned a farm in Hebron. Solomon held several jobs and gained a reputation for being a talented violin player. He also earned employment on the railroad construction in Saratoga when the family moved there in 1834. Anne was renowned as an excellent cook and worked at several public houses. While work was occasionally scarce, the Northup family fared well for the standards of the era.
However, Solomon’s life was about to be turned upside down after an encounter with Brown and Hamilton at Saratoga Springs in 1841. They told him they worked for a circus in Washington D.C. and were actively seeking a violinist. Solomon believed his absence would be brief and since his wife was only 20 miles away in Sandy Hill, he decided not to write and tell her about the news. As he rode in a carriage with the two men on the way to Albany, Northup was probably thinking about how the money would help his family. Little did he realize he had fallen into a trap and would spend the next 12 years in captivity.