Perhaps the best written of all the slave narratives, Twelve Years a Slave is a harrowing memoir about one of the darkest periods in American history.
It recounts how one Solomon Northup, born a free man in New York, was lured to Washington, D.C., in 1841 with the promise of fast money, then drugged, beaten and sold into slavery.
Solomon, living in New York with his wife and children, accepts a job from a pair of white men to play violin in a circus.
Soon the three are enjoying a night out in Washington, sealing their camaraderie with heaping plates of food, flowing wine and the unstated conviction of a shared humanity—a fiction that evaporates when he wakes the next morning shackled—and discovers that he’s been sold into slavery.
Thereafter, he is passed from master to master and kept in bondage for 12 years.
The genius of 12 Years a Slave is its insistence on the banality of evil, and the unending terror that inevitable seeped into the souls and bodies of its slave-victims.
SOLOMON NORTHUP (1807-1863) was an American abolitionist and author of the memoir Twelve Years a Slave. A farmer and professional violinist, Northup had been a landowner in Hebron, New York when in 1841 he was offered a traveling musician's job and went to Washington, D.C. (where slavery was legal). There he was drugged, kidnapped, sold as a slave and shipped to New Orleans, held as a slave for 12 years in the Red River region of Louisiana. He remained in slavery until a Canadian working on his plantation helped get word to New York, where state law provided aid to free New York citizens kidnapped into slavery. Family and friends enlisted the aid of the Governor of New York, Washington Hunt, and Northup regained his freedom on January 3, 1853.
“Think of it: For 30 years a man with all a man’s hopes, fears, and aspirations…then for 12 years a thing. It chills the blood.”