Twelve Years a Slave Background

Twelve Years a Slave Background

Twelve Years a Slave is a memoir narrated by Solomon Northup and published in 1853, the same year in which he was liberated.

Northup recounts his life beginning in New York, establishing his origin and his status as a free man residing in the North with his family. He then shares the details surrounding his kidnapping and experiences within the slave market, and the subsequent years of captivity and enslavement he endures until he steps onto free soil once again, twelve years later. Through his story of plight, Northup describes the daily interactions between himself and other slaves and the various masters he works under, as well as specific and extensive knowledge of agricultural practices and southern customs – shedding more light upon slavery than any history book can.

The memoir is dedicated to Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose fictional narrative entitled Uncle Tom's Cabin, was published only one year earlier. Critics have noticed Northup's story bearing many similarities to Stowe's, such as the condemnation of the legal system itself rather than individual slave owners, as well as the shared setting of the novels. The publication of Twelve Years a Slave helped affirm the fictional, albeit accurate, words of Stowe regarding the institution of slavery.

Twelve Years a Slave became a bestseller of its time and has since been re-introduced to the public domain, providing an outlook critical to the national debate leading to the Civil War as well as an understanding of a brutal yet significant aspect of American history.