In 1853, Solomon Northup in his memoir 12 Years a Slave, illustrates the story of his life from his perspective as a free man who was kidnapped and sold in to slavery. The editor, David Wilson statement states that this book is a true story without biases that explains the horrendous situations that many people were put through. I am fascinated by this story and how this is from an real experience and I am intrigued from what this book has to offer.
Solomon Northup begins to talk about his family. His father was a slave in New York for the Northup Family, where he was freed after the death of his master. Solomon was born was a free man in Minerva, New York in 1808 where he worked as a farmer alongside of his father until his death. Shortly after he marries Anne Hampton. His dedication for his family and to live a better life was impeccable. Though being a free man in New York was not too uncommon, those who were free had to fight for it and be careful of their position. He worked hard, taking many jobs, as well as his wife, earned him and his family a good life considering that he is an African American in the early 1800’s.
Two men who go by the name of Hamilton and Brown had told Solomon that they heard about his musical ability and recruited him to the circus, in promise of a high wage. Solomon did not think about his position thoroughly before he easily made the decision of joining when their description of the job was very vague. Their offer was too good to be true. His decision was ignorant and foolish, and he should have told his wife about the offer and have asked more details about the job before he accepted it. However, they allured in Solomon in such a way with their friendliness and the offer to have the chance to do something that he enjoyed that I also might have been deceived. I do not think that people would pay so much for a colored man to get paper work, just for him to work for a short amount of time. After watching the first circus event with random tricks like the pig noises and pancakes with a very few audiences, it is bizarre that they would pay Solomon a high wage when he is colored and random person. In the end he gets drugged and enslaved. Many moments in Washington was very sketchy, though it may not have been to noticeable in the moment. I think that the scheme of kidnapping people was very common in that time considering that Solomon’s incident was very thought through to make it believable.
Northup find himself in a jail cell of a slave trader named James Burch in Washington DC. He is told that he was slave from Georgia and beats him whenever he demands his freedom. The building was contracted in a way that the outside world will not know what is happening inside where the slaves are treated like animals. I think that Burch and Brown and Hamilton work was all pre planned and Northup was not their first nor last victim they will kidnap and enslave. Though Northups strength and perseverance is admirable, he is only making the situation more dangerous by talking back causing Burch to be more irritated. I would have obeyed Burch because he would not have done anything different if I were to say something. Burch is a monstrous being who knows that Northup is a free man and understands his business. Eliza and Emily’s horrible situation shows how people can end up in slavery despite their pervious life.
The slaves were taken to a ship to be sent to Richmond where they would be sold or in some equivalent manner. There he meets at man named Robert which he soon finds out that they had similar up bringings. This shows that kidnapping free men was not uncommon to be sold as slaves. Burch then returns back to Washington DC while the slaves are being shipped to New Orleans. Northup states at the end that the next time Burch appears, he is arrested and punished for his crimes.
In the ship to New Orleans, Northup meets another man whose name is Arthur, who had the same experience as Robert and him. The three construct an escape plan which was never put into action due to the sudden death of Robert. Northup’s effort to escape was very brave and daring but it was very perilous, which they were risking their lives to do it. When they got to their destination Northup finds out that his name is changed to Platt. I think that since Northup used to be a free man who was kidnapped, his owner wanted to ensure that no one can find him so that they will not get in trouble. I wonder what Northup’s family had done to try to find him.
The next morning freeman prepares the slaves to be sold at the auction. Slavery and its it auctions to sell slaves are truly disgusting. How can someone tare families apart, abuse and kill people because the difference between skin color. Eliza’s children being taken away from her was absolutely heart wrenching. First Randall is bought and was not able to afford Eliza or Emily. Soon after Eliza finds out that Emily will be separated from her and she breaks down. Seeing the scene, Ford offered to buy Emily, but Freedman suddenly tell him that she is not for sell probably because he did not want them together. Buyer and trader break apart families, whom they which will most likely never see again, without having a care in the world.
Northup’s owner, William Ford is a Baptist preacher who known to be kind to his slaves. They are taken to Fords house in the Great Pine Woods, where he will contribute greatly during his time of stay. Unlike many slave owners, he and his wife were a very kind-hearted couple, who cared for slaves and treated them very well. Ford shows how slave could have had different experiences depending on the owner. I do not think that being a Baptist preacher would change their perspective about slaves, though he does comfort and teach them about god and the bible. Ford is raised in the South, where slavery seems almost natural to the community, so he does not understand the concept of how slavery is inhumane and cruel. He does not have the ability to change a whole society of people, since slavery is so deep rooted in the lives of most families. Northup could not fully open up about his true identity to Ford because of his traumatizing experience with Burch. Their relationship is almost family like and since Ford and his wife has treated him kindly like no other, Northup wants to help them to repay them for their actions.
Ford had to give up his slaves due to financial problems, one of which was Northup. He was sold to Tibeats which he was bought for more than Fords debt. Tibeats is unsatisfied and abuses Solomon who continues to work hard nonetheless. Northup is ordered to retrieve nails from Chapin’s, which was not satisfactory for Tibeats. He blames and lashes out on Northup to punish him. Northup’s past experience with Burch and his rebellious character lead him to fight back, and hurdles Tibeats to the ground. He might have intervened due to him not being in good terms with Tibeats, I am sure that it was for morally and ethical responsibility. I think that he had some guilt over the situation. Tibeats threatens to kill Northup and tries to hang him. Without Chapin’s interference between the two, there was no doubt that Northup would have been killed. It seems that Chapin is concerned over Northup’s safety rather than his own at this point.
Northup is left in the heat unable to move. I did not understand why Chapin didn’t unbind him, but Northup does say that he thinks that Chapin did not want to get involved with the situation any further. In this chapter the laws and legal systems about slaves is brought up several times by Northup and Chapin, which shows the injustice of slaves and their humane rights. The slave who went to Ford came back being proud of being able to help Northup and impressed with himself. Ford then arrives and frees Northup and that night Chapin tells his to sleep in his house, thinking that Tibeats may seek revenge. Like Ford, Chapin is also a kind-hearted person, who respects the life of a slave. These actions show how respected and loved Northup was by the community. Northup is hired to Peter Tanner who seems to be funny and sarcastic, but it comes off as rude and offensive and it seem that he does not like Tanner. He reads the Bible to his slaves like Ford but has an entirely different perceptive and interoperation of the scripture. He uses the bible to intimidate and control his slaves by saying that god also justifies slavery and that slaves should behave and obey they master, unlike Ford who uses the bible to support and encourage his slaves.
Northup’s is not needed at Tanner and he returns to Tibeats. On a day where Chapin was not present, Tibeats attacks Northup but with his quick thinking he successfully avoids his swing and tackles Tibeats and runs away. He was very determined and brave with his quick decision but the stress of not knowing his future being a slave got to him, which made him think about the possibility of killing him or if dying was easier. I wonder what would have happened to Northup is he were to kill Tibeats, and vice versa and how would the community react to it. He was very intent to go to Fords house, even if he was risking his life to go through the deadly swamps. I cannot imagine what I would have done if I were to be in his situation. He has gone through experiences that I would never in my life would imagine happening to me. He was lucky that he was not questioned or caught by the white male, but he handled the situation very well with his determination and perseverance. When he gets to Ford he acts like his father again by consoling him and helping him.
Ford and Northup heads to Bayou Boeuf where they see Tibeats. Ford understand how horribly treats his slaves especially Northup and does not allow him to be with Northup and tells him that treating slaves with kindness earns more respect. Ford attitude towards the mistreatment of slaves is very understanding and he seems to be showing his displeasured expressions towards it when he is talking with Tibeats. I think that Ford is acting from an ethical stand point, but I think that his environment and surrounding influences his thinking. Ford and Tibeats have an unusual relationship where they disapprove their opinion but not to the extent of trying to hurt each other. In the end Tibeats listens to Fords advice and sells off Northup to Edwin Epps, a plantation owner.
Edwin Epps sounds like an alcoholic when he was described. When he is drunk he abuses his slave for entertainment, but when he is sober he whips slaves to work harder. Both his drunk and sober personalities like to abuse his slave, which seems like he has a similar violent tendency and treats slaves like Tibeats, but not to those extremes, yet. I have a feeling that Northup is going to have a similar experience as Epps slave, like he did at Tibeats as time goes on. The main jobs of the slaves are cotton harvesting, and he explains the long and detailed description of their jobs. The slaves are punished if they do not pick two hundred pounds of cotton a day and they are also punished if they break the easily breakable cotton branch. The slaves are nervous and scared every day because of the pressure that is put upon them to not be punished. I would work hard to not get punished, but the small portions of food given would not allow my body to have energy to move. Like Tibeats, I think that he is trying to find any reason to punish the slaves.
This chapter starts to show Epps true personality, which may be even worse than Tibeats by now. He is cruel and abuses his slaves for his entertainment and forcing his slaves to do what he wants, and his wife is no different from him. Epps only sent Northup to the doctor when he was slowly dying of smallpox, it would be wasteful to get rid of his best slave. I personally would not be able to handle his harsh treatments, from getting abused for fun to being overworked, I think I would rather die than experience those horrors. Patsey is described as a fun, loving girl who is gifted and can do any task that is given to her. However, she obeys every command which makes her very vulnerable and easily taken advantage of. She repeatedly gets raped by Epps and constantly gets beaten up by his wife out jealousy which cause Patsey to fall apart.
Northup experience in the sugar plantation was different than his previous jobs. He excelled greatly, and the slaves were allowed to keep their earnings on Sundays, which allowed them to have more freedom on their belongings. I think for Northup, music was an escape out of reality, out of slavery and reminded him about things that brings him happiness. Being given the opportunity to play the violin, even with a profit, gave him excitement and comfort. Northup has an accurate stance on how whites act in the presence of slavery. I think that most people who have slaves are raised with families who owned them, so they do not have the understanding of slaves because it is so natural to them.
Northup is skilled at harvesting sugarcane, so Epps hire him to make great profit only for himself. He explains how sugar cane is harvested very detailed like he did for cotton. I think that it is amazing that Northup has many talents and has the ability to learn and master it, which makes him very appealing. Christmas was something that slaves were looking forward to because they get days off of work, though unlike most plantations where slaves get 6 days, Epps only gives 3 days off. The holidays a busy time that slaves can have certain amount of freedom and relaxation, where people may get married or kindle old friendships. Feasts are held where they wear their best attire and have fun, and Northup gets to play his violin, and they can visit people who are close by. Basically, the holidays were the time to do anything and everything they wanted to do in the past year, but it also shows that everything is dictated by your owner and you do not have the freedom to pick for yourself.
Northup secretly steals paper and a pen to write a letter to an acquaintance, asking to be rescued. He keeps the letter for a while until he meets a poor white man named Armsby and he asked him if he would mail it out. Northup does not tell him the contents of the letter and Armsby agrees to keep it a secret. He finds out the next day that Armsby had snitched on him but was successfully blames it back on Armsby. I think that if I were Northup I would have handled it the same way as he had. He betrayed Northups trust when he was secretly trying to send a letter back home. Why would he tell Epps about the letter, when he could have kept it a secret and not let a situation like this happen. What would have happened if Epps were to believe Armsby instead of Northup.
In this chapter Northup talks about other people who tried to escape and failed. He thought about escaping but he knows that it is impossible for him to run away and have the possibility of being free again. I think that the Lew Cheney revolt was useless and cause innocent slaves to be killed. Cheney tried to look innocent when he knew that the rebellion was going to fail, when any other slave who was thought to be associated with the rebellion was hanged. If slaves were to be caught trying to revolt, they would immediately be punished, making it hard and not desirable.
The punishment of Patesy was cruel and none it was her fault. The problems that Epps and his wife are all inflicted upon Patsey because of his wife’s jealousy and Epps actions when Epps forces patsy to engage in horrible activities even though he is married Although Patsey was a lighthearted girl who was incredibly talented, Epps and his wife punished her for their own personal problems that they have created, and poor Patsey’s emotional state was destroyed, leaving her to become unstable and flawed. I understand why Epps son would also have the same behavior of their father because he has been taught racism and that is the only reality that he knows.
Bass is a white Canadian contractor who Northup meets at a construction project. He is extremely a kindhearted man who does not believe that slavery and is one of the first people that Northup opened up to his past. He believes in freedom which may be also because he witnessed slavery being banned his own country, none the less he agrees to help Northup, so he can be rescued. Bass is my favorite character out of anyone in this book because I can relate to his opinion the most. In Bass and Epps argument over slavery, Bass argues that even if slavery is legal it is not morally right. I only agree Bass, but the two are raised in such a different society that their viewpoints would obviously different.
On Christmas eve Bass comes to see Northup just like he had promised, and they show the importance of their friendship and commitment. Bass is loyal and trustworthy to Northup and I think that he does not have any bad intentions. He seems to become the of kind friend who is like family to Northup. He goes out of his way to make sure that Northup can contact his friends and family and is even willing to go see his family in person, the next time he travels to New York.
The complexity of trying to get Northup liberated tell us that government is not trying to hide the fact that they created so many rules and regulation so that slaves would not be easily freed. The government does know that Northup is a free man, yet it is very hard to get him back his freedom that he deserves. I have been wondering why it took him 12 years to be taken out of slavery, despite the fact that he can prove that he was free.
The fact that Burch lied to avoid punishments for his crime and tried to accuse Northup that it was his own fault for “wanting” to go to the south is absolutely ridiculous. The court shows racism by allowing Burch to testify but not Northup. Burch tries to charge him, and Burch was pronounced innocent. The scene where Northup is reunited with his family was described perfectly, almost that you can imagine seeing it for yourself. It was heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time when he saw his family for the first time in twelve year. It was sad that his mother was not there, and his daughter did not know who he was, but she was elated to see him. He finds out his son Alonzo has gone west to earn money to free his father, which shows the love of the family.