Solomon Northup was born a free black man in upstate New York in 1808. By 1841, he had become a husband, a father, a raftsman, and a talented fiddle-player. That year, while his family was away, he agreed to accompany two men to Washington DC, on what he thought would be a brief trip performing for a circus. Instead, these new employers turned out to be con men, and Northup was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery.
Northup was transported to New Orleans and remained a slave for the next twelve years, working for a number of masters in Louisiana—some brutal, some kind. Although Northup never stopped longing for home and thinking about how he could escape, it seemed impossible to trust anyone with the facts of his life. He remained a slave for a dozen years, until he finally met a Canadian abolitionist who was able to get a letter to his family and eventually gained his freedom.
After his release, Northup told his story to David Wilson, an upstate New York-based white lawyer and legislator. Northup’s memoir, edited by Wilson, was published in 1853 as Twelve Years A Slave. Northup’s story and his firsthand observations of plantation life and the cruel reality of slavery make this book an important document of the American south and American history.