Biography of Solomon Northup

Solomon Northup is the author of Twelve Years a Slave (1853), his memoir of his being kidnapped as a free black man in the North and sold into slavery in the South.

Most of his early biography is told in the work, but the essential facts of his life are thus: Northup was born in 1808 in Essex County, New York. His father was a former slave and his mother was a mixed-race woman. Northup married Anne Hampton and had three children, and the family lived in upstate New York. It was in Saratoga Springs where Northup accepted employment playing the fiddle from two respectable-seeming men, only to find himself locked up in a Washington, DC slave pen and sent down to Louisiana.

The years of 1841-1853 are those of Northup’s captivity (and when he was called “Platt”). He had two significant masters: the first was the benevolent Mr. Ford, and the second was the pernicious and cruel Mr. Epps. Northup never gave up on trying to escape, but he did not succeed in getting a letter out until 1852 when he met a sympathetic Canadian carpenter working on Epps’s plantation. Henry B. Northup, a white relative of the family who had owned Solomon’s father, finally was able to come down to locate Northup. Upon returning home, Northup worked with editor David Wilson to publish his account.

There are few details of Northup’s later life. Rumors abound, suggesting that he was kidnapped again or murdered. However, one historian located Northup in Vermont in the 1860s. He probably lectured throughout this time, but he may have worn out his welcome; it is surmised he also may have gone West.

It is believed that he died in 1863.

Study Guides on Works by Solomon Northup