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Twelve Years a Slave Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Feb 6th, 2019

The author of this book was born in 1808. He was raised in Minerva, New York. There is scanty information about his mother, and her name is not mentioned in the book. He is the son of Mintus, who was a slave under the Northup family. However, his father was freed from slavery after the family relocated to New York.

During his younger years, Solomon Northup assisted his father with the daily farming chores. Occasionally, he would also work as a rafts man. Northup got married to Anne Hampton. She had a background of mixed ancestry. Their wedding took place during the Christmas celebrations of 1829. They were blessed with three children during their marriage.

The author also became famous during the 1830s due to his skills in playing the fiddle. In 1841, Northup received a generous offer to join a group of performing artists on a tour of various states. However, just after accepting the offer, he was kidnapped and auctioned into slavery in the southern states.

During his time in slavery, Northup had several masters some of whom were brutal, and others that he deeply acknowledges as being kind and generous. The author was freed from slavery by an official of the state of Louisiana. After being released he filed kidnapping charges against his abductors, but the case was thrown away on technical grounds.

This book was recorded by a European lawyer acknowledging that it was the true account of the recollections of Solomon Northup. The book was subsequently published in 1853; barely a year after Solomon was freed from slavery. The initial chapters of this publication discuss the history of the Northup’s and the author’s marriage to Anne.

It also looks at his occupation as a farmer and rafts man. It further narrates about his life as a fiddle player and his kidnapping. Northup was promised hefty wages, $1 for a day and $3 for each show he performed. However, after arriving in Washington D.C., Northup was drugged causing him to fall asleep. When he finally woke up, he found himself “alone, in utter darkness, and in chains” (Northup 38). He was astonished to realize that a slave pen existed within Washington D.C.

The author was sold to a ruthless slave dealer who constantly whipped him for claiming that he was a free individual. During his stay at the slave pen, he met Eliza. The sad story of this lady is narrated by Northup in the subsequent pages of the book (Northup 50-54). During their transportation to New Orleans, the slaves plotted a mutiny.

However, this plan is abandoned after one of them succumbs to a smallpox infection (Northup 69-72). They are finally sold to Theophilus Freeman. Northup and Eliza who were lucky not to succumb to the infection are later bought by a clergy-man named William Ford. The author states that the preacher was moved by the cries of Eliza to purchase her younger sibling, but the trader refused. Northup describes the preacher as a kind individual (Northup 90).

Northup is later sold to a carpenter to whom Ford owed a lot of money because of his skills and hard work. He is a victim of brutal treatment at the hands of Tibeats. When his master attempted to assault him for a mistake, Northup fought back and snatched the whip. He later whips Tibeats before he could be rescued. Out of anger his master attempted to lynch him.

However, Northup is rescued by an observer who felt compassion (Northup 107-111). Later, Tibeats attempts to kill Northup with a hatchet, but again he cannot match the strength of the slave. After brutally assaulting his master, Northup is forced to escape and seek refuge in Ford’s farm where he is provided with protection (Northup 139).

The second part of the book provides a description of Northup’s life in the cotton plantations. He also talks of his escaped when hired out to the sugar cane plantations. He also provides a detailed account of the lives of other slaves particularly the harsh treatment they get from their masters (Northup 179-180).

The authors attempt to send communication back home thwarted by the Edwin with whom he had shared his secret. However, Northup was cunning enough to request the favor without showing Edwin the letter. Since there is no evidence, he easily refutes the accusations leveled against him. The author later met Mr. Bass who was a Canadian specializing in carpentry.

The carpenter agrees to help Northup send some letters home. They both recognize the significance of the act. The author notes that the experience he got from the first attempt made him extra cautious when dealing with Mr. Bass. The carpenter also re-affirmed the need for utmost secrecy (Northup 269-271). After a long delay which made Northup despair, he is finally rescued by a member of the family which his father served as a slave.

The final chapters of the book describe the legal proceedings which ensued after the release of Solomon Northup. The author through the help of Henry filed charges of abduction against his captors (Northup 315-319). The book ends on a happy note when the author is reunited with his wife and family. Northup is also gets to meet his grandson named after him.

Works Cited

Northup, Solomon. Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, from a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana, New York: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1853. Print.

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