The life story of Solomon Northup is profound as it is an account of a black man during the era of slavery. He was born free but later in life he was ruthlessly sold into slavery after being kidnapped in 1851. The family of Solomon’s father had been slaves but were later released via decree of their master whose surname was Northup. In honour of this good master, Solomon’s family adopted the name Northup. Solomon was transported to the heartland of slavery, Southern America. For 12 years, Solomon was subjected to the most severe depravity. His story is a testimony of shattered dreams and aspirations. This was the fate of black people during the dark age of slavery in America. Solomon describes his days of slavery as a cruel wrong and severe bondage. However, it is not entirely a morbid account as he was emancipated from slavery in 1853. In January 1853, Solomon regained his freedom and this was short of a miracle.
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After his release, Solomon sued the slave traders but his suit could not hold in a white supremacist judicial system. The law prohibited black people from testifying against Whites. Consequently, he lost the case in Washington. The white men were set free since the evidence of a black man was not admissible. After this failure, Solomon returned home, and he resolved to lobby for the abolition of slavery. In the process of activism, Solomon published Twelve Years a Slave where he candidly describes his slavery experience.
Born in 1808, Northup worked alongside his father in the farm and later rafted on the New York waterways. On the Christmas day of 1829, Solomon entered into matrimony with Anne Hampton whose descent was mixed (white, Native American and black). The couple bore three children and it during this time that Solomon excelled as a remarkable fiddle-player. Aiming at exploring this new talent, Solomon accepted an offer by two men to feature in musical shows. However, this was not to be as the unscrupulous men intoxicated him with drugs, and he was sold as a slave. Twelve Years a Slave explains Solomon Northup’s life from childhood, the slavery period and little about life after liberation.
The two men sold Northup to a vicious slave trader, James Burch who was based in Washington. Burch would viciously whip him for continuously reiterating his just claim to freedom. Solomon interacts with fellow slaves, and he narrates their sad tales in the book. After much torture from their owner, Solomon and other slaves are sold to a Baptist church Minister, William Ford. He would stack and chop logs at Ford’s lumber mill. This master is kind unlike his former owner who dealt cruelly with his slaves. For this kindness, Northup rewards his master by building a raft for him which substantially increases Ford’s profits. He is later sold to another owner, John Tibeats who is another cruel master. His slaves were overworked and they worked from dawn and would retire late in the night. Solomon did not have a congenial relationship with John Tibeats as he even attempts to kill him (Eakin & Northup, 1998).
The second part of Solomon’s book describes experiences in the cotton plantation. Moreover, he narrates the suffering endured by his fellow slaves as he re-counts the punishment meted for any offence. Solomon is also quite taken with the Southern culture as he is a Northerner. Evidently, Northup finds the talk and behaviour of the Southerners equally enthralling and there are several citations of Southern culture in his book. Notably in Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon notes the capabilities of female slaves in an approach that advocates a class of proto-feminist emotional response. The last part of his book outlines the legal proceedings which followed where the men were released without facing any charges. The narration ends with Solomon’s emotional reunion with his wife, daughters, and a grandson who was not known to him.
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