The Kidnapping Case: Seizure and Recovery

Solomon [Northup], the subject of the following narrative, is a free colored citizen of the United States; was born in Essex County, New York, about the year 1808; became early a resident of Washington County, and married there in 1829. His father and mother resided in the county of Washington about fifty years, till their decease, and were both free. With his wife and children he resided at Saratoga Springs in the Winter of 1841, and while there was employed by two gentlemen to drive a team South, at the rate of a dollar a day. In fulfilment of his employment he preceded to New York, and having taken out free papers, to show that he was a citizen, he went on to Washington City, where he arrived the second day of April, the same year, and put up at Gadsby’s hotel. Soon after he arrived, he felt unwell and went to bed.

While suffering with severe pain some persons came in, and, seeing the condition he was in, proposed to give him some medicine and did so. That is the last thing of which he had any recollection until he found himself chained to the floor of Williams’ slave pen in this City, and hand-cuffed. In the course of a few hours, James H. Burch, a slave-dealer, came in, and the colored man asked him to take the irons off from him, and wanted to know why they were put on. Burch told him it was none of his business. The colored man said he as free and told where he was born. Burch called in a man by the name of Ebenezer Rodbury, and they two stripped the man and laid him across a bench, Rodbury holding him down by his writs. Burch whipped him with a paddle until he broke that, and then with a cat-o’-nine tails, giving him a hundred lashes, and he swore he would kill him if he ever stated to any one that he was a free man.

– From the New York Times’ 1853 coverage of the Solomon Northup case. That same year, Northup published a best-selling memoir of his kidnapping into slavery, and remarkable escape. 161 years later, the film adaptation of Twelve Years a Slave won Best Picture at the Oscars.

Image: British Library, Flickr


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