Twelve Years a Slave

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Solomon Northup engraving c1853.jpg

SOLOMON IN HIS PLANTATION SUIT.

Solomon Northup signature.svg

FIFTH THOUSAND.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE.




NARRATIVE


OF


SOLOMON NORTHUP,


A CITIZEN OF NEW-YORK,


KIDNAPPED IN WASHINGTON CITY IN 1841,


AND


RESCUED IN 1853,


FROM A COTTON PLANTATION NEAR THE RED RIVER IN LOUISIANA.


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AUBURN:
DERBY AND MILLER.
BUFFALO:
DERBY, ORTON AND MULLIGAN
LONDON:
SAMPSON LOW, SON & COMPANY, 41 LUDGATE HILL
1853.



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year one thousand eight hundred and fifty-three, by

Derby and Miller,

In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Northern District of New-York.


Entered in London at Stationers' Hall.



TO

HARRIET BEECHER STOWE:

WHOSE NAME,

THROUGHOUT THE WORLD, IS IDENTIFIED WITH THE

GREAT REFORM:

THIS NARRATIVE, AFFORDING ANOTHER

Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin,

IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED


"Such dupes are men to custom, and so prone
To reverence what is ancient, and can plead
A course of long observance for its use,
That even servitude, the worst of ills,
Because delivered down from sire to son,
Is kept and guarded as a sacred thing.
But is it fit, or can it bear the shock
Of rational discussion, that a man
Compounded and made up, like other men,
Of elements tumultuous, in whom lust
And folly in as ample measure meet,
As in the bosom of the slave he rules,
Should be a despot absolute, and boast
Himself the only freeman of his land?"

CONTENTS.


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PAGE
Editor's Preface,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
15
CHAPTER I.
Introductory—Ancestry—The Northup Family—Birth and Parentage—Mintus Northup—Marriage with Anne Hampton—Good Resolutions—Champlain Canal—Rafting Excursion to Canada—Farming—The Violin—Cooking—Removal to Saratoga—Parker and Perry—Slaves and Slavery—The Children—The Beginning of Sorrow,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
17
CHAPTER II.
The two Strangers—The Circus Company—Departure from Saratoga—Ventriloquism and Legerdemain—Journey to New-York—Free Papers—Brown and Hamilton—The haste to reach the Circus—Arrival in Washington—Funeral of Harrison—The Sudden Sickness—The Torment of Thirst—The Receding Light—Insensibility—Chains and Darkness,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
28
CHAPTER III.
Painful Meditations—James H. Burch—Williams' Slave Pen in Washington—The Lackey, Radburn—Assert my Freedom—The Anger of the Trader—The Paddle and Cat-o'-nine-tails—The Whipping—New Acquaintances—Ray, Williams, and Randall—Arrival of Little Emily and her Mother in the Pen—Maternal Sorrows—The Story of Eliza,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
40
CHAPTER IV.
Eliza's Sorrows—Preparation to Embark—Driven Through the Streets of Washington—Hail, Columbia—The Tomb of Washington—Clem Ray—The Breakfast on the Steamer—The happy Birds—Aquia Creek—Fredericksburgh—Arrival in Richmond—Goodin and his Slave Pen—Robert, of Cincinnati—David and his Wife—Mary and Lethe—Clem's Return—His subsequent Escape to Canada—The Brig Orleans—James H. Burch,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
54
CHAPTER V.
Arrival at Norfolk—Frederick and Maria—Arthur, the Freeman—Appointed Steward—Jim, Cuffee, and Jenny—The Storm—Bahama Banks—The Calm—The Conspiracy—The Long Boat—The Small-Pox—Death of Robert—Manning, the Sailor—The Meeting in the Forecastle—The Letter—Arrival at New-Orleans—Arthur's Rescue—Theophilus Freeman, the Consignee—Platt—First Night in the New-Orleans Slave Pen,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
65
CHAPTER VI.
Freeman's Industry—Cleanliness and Clothes—Exercising in the Show Room—The Dance—Bob, the Fiddler—Arrival of Customers—Slaves Examined—The Old Gentleman of New-Orleans—Sale of David, Caroline, and Lethe—Parting of Randall and Eliza—Small-Pox—The Hospital—Recovery and Return to Freeman's Slave Pen—The Purchaser of Eliza, Harry, and Platt—Eliza's Agony on Parting from Little Emily,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
78
CHAPTER VII.
The Steamboat Rodolph—Departure from New-Orleans—William Ford—Arrival at Alexandria, on Red River—Resolutions—The Great Pine Woods—Wild Cattle—Martin's Summer Residence—The Texas Road—Arrival at Master Ford's—Rose—Mistress Ford—Sally and her Children—John, the Cook—Walter, Sam, and Antony—The Mills on Indian Creek—Sabbath Days—Sam's Conversion—The Profit of Kindness—Rafting—Adam Taydem, the Little White Man—Cascalla and his Tribe—The Indian Ball—John M. Tibeats—The Storm approaching,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
89
CHAPTER VIII.
Ford's Embarrassments—The Sale to Tibeats—The Chattel Mortgage—Mistress Ford's Plantation on Bayou Bœuf—Description of the Latter—Ford's Brother-in-law, Peter Tanner—Meeting with Eliza—She still Mourns for her Children—Ford's Overseer, Chapin—Tibeats' Abuse—The Keg of Nails—The First Fight with Tibeats—His Discomfiture and Castigation—The attempt to Hang me—Chapin's Interference and Speech—Unhappy Reflections—Abrupt Departure of Tibeats, Cook, and Ramsey—Lawson and the Brown Mule—Message to the Pine Woods,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
105
CHAPTER IX.
The Hot Sun—Yet bound—The Cords, sink into my Flesh—Chapin's Uneasiness—Speculation—Rachel, and her Cup of Water—Suffering increases—The Happiness of Slavery—Arrival of Ford—He cuts the Cords which bind me, and takes the Rope from my Neck—Misery—The gathering of the Slaves in Eliza's Cabin—Their Kindness—Rachel Repeats the Occurrences of the Day—Lawson entertains his Companions with an Account of his Ride—Chapin's apprehensions of Tibeats—Hired to Peter Tanner—Peter expounds the Scriptures—Description of the Stocks,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
118
CHAPTER X.
Return to Tibeats—Impossibility of pleasing him—He attacks me with a Hatchet—The Struggle over the Broad Axe—The Temptation to Murder him—Escape across the Plantation—Observations from the Fence—Tibeats approaches, followed by the Hounds—They take my Track—Their loud Yells—They almost overtake me—I reach the Water—The Hounds confused—Moccasin Snakes—Alligators—Night in the "Great Pacoudrie Swamp"—The Sounds of Life—North-West Course—Emerge into the Pine "Woods—Slave and his Young Master—Arrival at Ford's—Food and Rest,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
131
CHAPTER XI.
The Mistress' Garden—The Crimson and Golden Fruit—Orange and Pomegranate Trees—Return to Bayou Bœuf—Master Ford's Remarks on the way—The Meeting with Tibeats—His Account of the Chase—Ford censures his Brutality—Arrival at the Plantation—Astonishment of the Slaves on seeing me—The anticipated Flogging—Kentucky John—Mr. Eldret, the Planter—Eldret's Sam—Trip to the "Big Cane Brake"—The Tradition of "Sutton's Field"—Forest Trees—Gnats and Mosquitoes—The Arrival of Black Women in the Big Cane—Lumber Women—Sudden Appearance of Tibeats—His Provoking Treatment—Visit to Bayou Bœuf—The Slave Pass—Southern Hospitality—The Last of Eliza—Sale to Edwin Epps,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
146
CHAPTER XII.
Personal Appearance of Epps—Epps, Drunk and Sober—A Glimpse of his History—Cotton Growing—The Mode of Ploughing and Preparing Ground—Of Planting, of Hoeing, of Picking, of Treating Raw Hands—The difference in Cotton Pickers—Patsey a remarkable one—Tasked according to Ability—Beauty of a Cotton Field—The Slave's Labors—Fear of Approaching the Gin-House—Weighing—"Chores"—Cabin Life—The Corn Mill—The Uses of the Gourd—Fear of Oversleeping—Fear continually—Mode of Cultivating Corn—Sweet Potatoes—Fertility of the Soil—Fattening Hogs—Preserving Bacon—Raising Cattle—Shooting-Matches—Garden Products—Flowers and Verdure,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
162
CHAPTER XIII.
The Curious Axe-Helve—Symptoms of approaching illness—Continue to decline—The Whip ineffectual—Confined to the Cabin—Visit by Dr. Wines—Partial Recovery—Failure at Cotton Picking—What may be heard on Epps' Plantation—Lashes Graduated—Epps in a Whipping Mood—Epps in a Dancing Mood—Description of the Dance—Loss of Rest no Excuse—Epps' Characteristics—Jim Burns—Removal from Huff Power to Bayou Bœuf—Description of Uncle Abram; of Wiley; of Aunt Phebe; of Bob, Henry, and Edward; of Patsey; with a Genealogical Account of each—Something of their Past History, and Peculiar Characteristics—Jealousy and Lust—Patsey, the Victim,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
176
CHAPTER XIV.
Destruction of the Cotton Crop in 1845—Demand for Laborers in St. Mary's Parish—Sent thither in a Drove—The Order of the March—The Grand Coteau—Hired to Judge Turner on Bayou Salle—Appointed Driver in his Sugar House—Sunday Services—Slave Furniture; how obtained—The Party at Yarney's, in Centreville—Good Fortune—The Captain of the Steamer—His Refusal to Secrete me—Return to Bayou Bœ—Sight of Tibeats—Patsey's Sorrows—Tumult and Contention—Hunting the Coon and Opossum—The Cunning of the latter—The Lean Condition of the Slave—Description of the Fish Trap—The Murder of the Man from Natchez—Epps Chalenged by Marshall—The Influence of Slavery—The Love of Freedom,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
191
CHAPTER XV.
Labors on Sugar Plantations—The Mode of Planting Cane—of Hoeing Cane—Cane Ricks—Cutting Cane—Description of the Cane Knife—Winrowing—Preparing for Succeeding Crops—Description of Hawkins' Sugar Mill on Bayou Bœuf—The Christmas Holidays—The Carnival Season of the Children of Bondage—The Christmas Supper—Red, the Favorite Color—The Violin, and the Consolation it afforded—The Christmas Dance—Lively, the Coquette—Sam Roberts, and his Rivals—Slave Songs—Southern Life as it is—Three Days in the Year—The System of Marriage—Uncle Abram's Contempt of Matrimony,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
208
CHAPTER XVI.
Overseers—How they are Armed and Accompanied—The Homicide—His Execution at Marksville—Slave Drivers—Appointed Driver on removing to Bayou Bœuf—Practice makes perfect—Epps's Attempt to Cut Platt's Throat—The Escape from him—Protected by the Mistress—Forbids Reading and Writing—Obtain a Sheet of Paper after Nine Years' Effort—The Letter—Armsby, the Mean White—Partially Confide in him—His Treachery—Epps' Suspicions—How they were quieted—Burning the Letter—Armsby leaves the Bayou—Disappointment and Despair,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
223
CHAPTER XVII.
Wiley disregards the counsels of Aunt Phebe and Uncle Abram, and is caught by the Patrollers—The Organization and Duties of the latter—Wiley Runs Away—Speculations in regard to him—His Unexpected Return—His Capture on the Red River, and Confinement in Alexandria Jail—Discovered by Joseph B. Roberts—Subduing Dogs in anticipation of Escape—The Fugitives in the Great Pine Woods—Captured by Adam Taydem and the Indians—Augustus killed by Dogs—Nelly, Eldret's Slave Woman—The Story of Celeste—The Concerted Movement—Lew Cheney, the Traitor—The Idea of Insurrection,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
236
CHAPTER XVIII.
O'Niel, the Tanner—Conversation with Aunt Phebe overheard—Epps in the Tanning Business—Stabbing of Uncle Abram—The Ugly Wound—Epps is Jealous—Patsey is Missing—Her Return from Shaw's—Harriet, Shaw's Black Wife—Epps Enraged—Patsey denies his Charges—She is Tied Down Naked to Four Stakes—The Inhuman Flogging —Flaying of Patsey—The Beauty of the Day—The Bucket of Salt Water—The Dress stiff with Blood—Patsey grows Melancholy—Her Idea of God and Eternity—Of Heaven and Freedom—The Effect of Slave-Whipping—Epps' Oldest Son—"The Child is Father to the Man,"
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
250
CHAPTER XIX.
Avery, on Bayou Rouge—Peculiarity of Dwellings—Epps builds a New House—Bass, the Carpenter—His Noble Qualities—His Personal Appearance and Eccentricities—Bass and Epps discuss the Question of Slavery—Epps' Opinion of Bass—I make myself known to him—Our Conversation—His Surprise—The Midnight Meeting on the Bayou Bank—Bass' Assurances—Declares War against Slavery—Why I did not Disclose my History—Bass writes Letters—Copy of his Letter to Messrs. Parker and Perry—The Fever of Suspense—Disappointments—Bass endeavors to cheer me—My Faith in him,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
263
CHAPTER XX.
Bass faithful to his word—His Arrival on Christmas Eve—The Difficulty of Obtaining an Interview—The Meeting in the Cabin—Son-arrival of the Letter—Bass announces his Intention to proceed North—Christmas—Coversation between Epps and Bass—Young Mistress McCoy, the Beauty of Bayou Bœuf—The "Ne plus ultra" of Dinners—Music and Dancing—Presence of the Mistress—Her Exceeding Beauty—The Last Slave Dance—William Pierce—Oversleep myself—The Last Whipping—Despondency—Cold Morning—Epps' Threats—The Passing Carriage—Strangers approaching through the Cotton-Field—Last Hour on Bayou Bœuf,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
279
CHAPTER XXI.
The Letter reaches Saratoga—Is forwarded to Anne—Is laid before Henry B. Northup—The Statute of May 14, 1840—Its Provisions—Anne's Memorial to the Governor—The affidavits Accompanying it—Senator Soule's Letter—Departure of the Agent appointed by the Governor—Arrival at Marksville—The Hon. John P. Waddill—The Conversation on New-York Politics—It suggests a Fortunate Idea—The Meeting with Bass—The Secret out—Legal Proceedings instituted—Departure of Northup and the Sheriff from Marksville for Bayou Bœuf—Arrangements on the Way—Reach Epps' Plantation—Discover his Slaves in the Cotton-Field—The Meeting—The Farewell,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
289
CHAPTER XXII.
Arrival in New-Orleans—Glimpse of Freeman—Genois, the Recorder—His Description of Solomon—Reach Charleston Interrupted by Custom House Officers—Pass through Richmond—Arrival in Washington—Burch Arrested—Shekels and Thorn—Their Testimony—Burch Acquitted—Arrest of Solomon—Burch withdraws the Complaint—The Higher Tribunal—Departure from Washington—Arrival at Sandy Hill—Old Friends and Familiar Scenes—Proceed to Glens Falls—Meeting with Anne, Margaret, and Elizabeth—Solomon Northup Staunton—Incidents—Conclusion,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
310
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
323


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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.




Portrait of Solomon in his Plantation Suit,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Scene in the Slave Pen at Washington,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Separation of Eliza and her last Child,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Chapin rescues Solomon from Hanging,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
The Staking out and Flogging of the girl Patsey,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Scene in the Cotton Field, and Solomon's Delivery,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Arrival Home, and first meeting with his Wife and Children,
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

EDITOR'S PREFACE.




When the editor commenced the preparation of the following narrative, he did not suppose it would reach the size of this volume. In order, however, to present all the facts which have been communicated to him, it has seemed necessary to extend it to its present length.

Many of the statements contained in the following pages are corroborated by abundant evidence—others rest entirely upon Solomon's assertion. That he has adhered strictly to the truth, the editor, at least, who has had an opportunity of detecting any contradiction or discrepancy in his statements, is well satisfied. He has invariably repeated the same story without deviating in the slightest particular, and has also carefully perused the manuscript, dictating an alteration wherever the most trivial inaccuracy has appeared.

It was Solomon's fortune, during his captivity, to be owned by several masters. The treatment he received while at the "Pine Woods" shows that among slaveholders there are men of humanity as well as of cruelty. Some of them are spoken of with emotions of gratitude—others in a spirit of bitterness. It is believed that the following account of his experience on Bayou Bœuf presents a correct picture of Slavery in all its lights and shadows, as it now exists in that locality. Unbiased, as he conceives, by any prepossessions or prejudices, the only object of the editor has been to give a faithful history of Solomon Northup's life, as he received it from his lips.

In the accomplishment of that object, he trusts he has succeeded, notwithstanding the numerous faults of style and of expresssion it may be found to contain.

DAVID WILSON.

Whitehall, N. Y., May, 1853.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.