“There may be humane masters, as there certainly are inhuman ones - there may be slaves well-clothed, well-fed, and happy, as there surely are those half-clad, half-starved and miserable; nevertheless, the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust, and barbarous one. Men may write fictions portraying lowly life as it is, or as it is not - may expatiate with owlish gravity upon the bliss of ignorance - discourse flippantly from arm chairs of the pleasures of slave life; but let them toil with him in the field - sleep with him in the cabin - feed with him on husks; let them behold him scourged, hunted, trampled on, and they will come back with another story in their mouths. Let them know the heart of the poor slave - learn his secret thoughts - thoughts he dare not utter in the hearing of the white man; let them sit by him in the silent watches of the night - converse with him in trustful confidence, of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," and they will find that ninety-nine out of every hundred are intelligent enough to understand their situation, and to cherish in their bosoms the love of freedom, as passionately as themselves.”
― Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave
Twelve Years A Slave
Twelve Year A Slave is a narrative and memoir by Solomon Northrup. The work was published in 1853 as a slave narrative autobiography depicting the life Solomon endured after being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Northrup’s work has lived on vivaciously for many years, and was even made into a film adaptation which received powerful reviews by many.
The narrative was edited by renowned scholar and editor at the time, David Wilson. It is important to note that Wilson himself as a white man with a well-respected demeanor, and he put his career and respectability on the line in the preface of the work, stating that Northrup spoke the very words which would be read following from his very mouth, and to state that anything Northrup said is a lie would be akin to claiming Wilson a liar as well. Wilson gives introductory notes in which he affirms that the following work is truth and accurate. Both Northrup and Wilson put their integrity on the line for the publication of this work, and it is important to understand that.
As a summary, the memoir depicts Northrup in his hometown of Saratoga, in New York, as a free Negro. Solomon was skilled in different trades, most prominently carpentry and violin. He is approached by two promoters of a circus in which they offer him a position working for them which they ensure will be of high value and money. Northrup is tricked into accompanying the men and becomes enslaved, waking up in a cell inside of a slave pen. Despite multiple assertions of his rights, he cannot persuade the slavers and he becomes beaten, traveling to New Orleans.
Despite writing to his family, Northrup did not find rescue or solace. He endured the next twelve years as a slave, working for different slave owners. It is important to note that the first of his slave owners was the most humane, as he was often subdued by extreme cruelty. In his final years as a slave, Solomon met an abolitionist from Cana named Samuel Bass, who was the only person Northrup speaks his true story to after the first incident of asserting his rights. Bass assists Solomon by sending letters to his family, and because of this, he was freed. After legality struggles, Solomon’s attorney and friend Henry Northrup aided and fought for his freedom.
The work by Northrup is a pivotal and powerful story on the history and inhumanity of slavery. The memoir itself is a prominent and often spoken about piece of slave narrative, which even over a century old holds wounds. Northrup and Wilson bring poignant remarks and lessons in this piece of work, but primarily show the importance and vivacity of human’s inherent dignity.