Sunday, July 1, 2012

Just Finished Reading

Wow! What an amazing story! I have read a number of slave narratives over the years, but Twelve Years A Slave by Solomon Northup is by far the best account so far. Reading any amount of slave studies, it is almost impossible to not find references to Northup's story, however a true appreciation for it can not be formed without reading it in total.

Several reasons make Twelve Years A Slave a remarkable book. First, it is an amazing story told well. The circumstances of free man of color Northup's fated kidnapping, transportation to New Orleans and then purchase by a kind master and then by two harsh masters is captivating and tragic all at the same time.

Secondly, Northup provides a detailed insight on the enslaved experience in Louisiana like few other narratives. For example, his explanation of slave diets, runaways and cotton and sugar cultivation give the reader an intimate look of slavery in a region where it was considered to be the worst.

Thirdly, Northup wrote his account very soon after his rescue, so the details are clear and his experiences are backed up with documentation provided in the appendix lest one should doubt his incredible tale.

One particular aspect of Northup's account I found especially intriguing was his mention of insurrections. Being born a free man he had known liberty - to not have to answer to another man - and to make decisions for oneself. But, upon being enslaved, he desired a return to freedom as much as his slave-mates that had never breathed the air of freewill. On the ship voyage from Washington D.C., - where he had been drugged and then sold - enroute to the New Orleans market, he contemplated insurrection with a fellow slave. "Let not those who have never been placed in like circumstances, judge me harshly. Until they have been chained and beaten - until they find themselves in the situation I was, borne away from home and family towards a land of bondage - let them refrain from saying what they would not do for liberty." Once located on a cotton plantation in Louisiana, Northup again mentioned the proclivity of slaves to consider an uprising. "Such an idea as insurrection, however is not new among the enslaved population of Bayou Boeuf. More than once I have joined in serious consultation, when the subject had been discussed, and there have been times when a word from me would have placed hundreds of my fellow-bondsmen in an attitude of defiance. Without arms or ammunition, or even with them, I saw such a step would result in certain defeat, disaster and death, and always raised my voice against it." He continued later that, "They [proslavery proponents] are deceived who flatter themselves that the ignorant and debased slave has no conception of the magnitude of his wrongs. They are deceived who imagine that he arises from his knees, with back lacerated and bleeding, cherishing only a spirit of meekness and forgiveness. A day may come - it will come, if his prayer is heard - a terrible day of vengeance, when the master in his turn will cry in vain for mercy."

I don't want to give away the story, and as an encouragement for you to read the book, I will not go into detail on how Northup was rescued and returned to freedom, but I will say it continues his amazing story.

I can't recommend Twelve Years A Slave enough. On a scale of 1 to 5, I have to give it a full 5. On a side note: Northup's story was made into a TV movie for American Playhouse in 1984. In it Northup was played by Avery Brooks.  And, it appears that Twelve Years A Slave will be released as a feature film in 2013 starring such notables as Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup.


  1. You, and anyone else who has read Twelve Years a Slave, might be interested to know abouy my recent book, Solomon Northup: His Life Before and After Slavery. For one thing, it tells what Northup did after publication of his book in 1853. See

  2. Thanks David. I will check into your book.