12 Years a Slave
Publication Date: September 4, 2013
List Price: $16.00*
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"New York Times "bestseller
"I could not believe that I had never heard of this book. It felt as important as Anne Frank's "Diary, " only published nearly a hundred years before. . . . The book blew my] mind: the epic range, the details, the adventure, the horror, and the humanity. . . . I hope my film can play a part in drawing attention to this important book of courage. Solomon's bravery and life deserve nothing less." --Steve McQueen, director of "12 Years a Slave, "from the Foreword
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 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 and beaten and sold into slavery. He spent the next twelve years of his life in captivity on a Louisiana cotton plantation.
After his rescue, Northup published this exceptionally vivid and detailed account of slave life. It became an immediate bestseller and today is recognized for its unusual insight and eloquence as one of the very few portraits of American slavery produced by someone as educated as Solomon Northup, or by someone with the dual perspective of having been both a free man and a slave.
His father, Mintus Northup, was a freed slave, who took his surname from the family he had served. Mintus's master, Captain Henry Northup, granted Mintus his freedom in his will. After the death of Captain Northup, Mintus, as well as becoming a free man, also managed, later on, to gain the vote by virtue of meeting New York State's property requirements, an impressive feat for someone coming from such a humble background. Mintus died in 1829.
Solomon's mother - unnamed in the book - was a woman of mixed ancestry. There are only sketchy details about her in Solomon's memoir, but it is mentioned that she died while Solomon was held as a slave in the Deep South. Solomon described his mother as a quadroon, meaning she was one quarter black and three-quarters white.
In 1829, Solomon married Anne Hampton, a woman of African, European and Native American heritage, and together they had three children: Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Solomon Northup worked as a raftsman, carpenter, construction worker and a fiddler, and he and his family initially owned a farm in Hebron, Washington County, before moving to Saratoga Springs, New York to take advantage of better employment prospects. Whilst Solomon worked, mainly as a musician, Anne was employed intermittently as a cook for local taverns and for the United States Hotel.
In 1841, aged 32, Solomon Northup met with two men who called themselves Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton. After gaining his trust, they drugged him and sold him to slave trader, James Birch, and claimed that Solomon was a fugitive slave. Solomon was then taken to Louisiana, where he remained in slavery for twelve years. It is these twelve years of slavery that are reflected on in this compelling memoir.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Ph.D.Cambridge), is Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and American Research, Harvard University. He is the author of Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513 2008; Black in Latin America; Tradition and the Black Atlantic: Critical Theory in the African Diaspora; Faces of America; Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the Racial Self; The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Criticism; Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars; Colored People: A Memoir; The Future of Race with Cornel West; Wonders of the African World; Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man; and The Trials of Phillis Wheatley. His is also the writer, producer, and narrator of PBS documentaries Finding Your Roots; Black in Latin America; Faces of America; African American Lives 1 and 2; Looking for Lincoln; America Beyond the Color Line; and Wonders of the African World. He is the editor of African American National Biography with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and The Dictionary of African Biography with Anthony Appiah; Encyclopedia Africana with Anthony Appiah; and The Bondwoman s Narrative by Hannah Crafts, as well as editor-in-chief of TheRoot.com.