For 12 years, violinist Solomon Northup toiled as a slave in Louisiana in secret, after being kidnapped from his home in Saratoga, New York, and sold for $650. Finally, on January 4, 1853, after an allied plantation worker sent several letters north on his behalf, Northup was freed, and returned home.
For the entire period in between, all his friends and family—including his wife and two young children—had no way of knowing where he was. But it didn’t take until this past year’s Best Picture winner 12 Years A Slavefor his story to once again be widely known.
It was first told in his own book, Twelve Years a Slave (full subtitle: Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana). But even before that, mere weeks after his freedom was restored, Northup’s case was getting major press coverage—as in this January 20, 1853 New York Times article: