The New York Times Article From 1853 Reporting Real ’12 Years a Slave’ Story

Thanks to the Oscar award-winning and hit movie “12 Years a Slave,” you probably know the incredible true life story of  violinist Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery for over a decade in 1841.

But, what you may not have known, is that Northup’s incredible tale of survival while a slave was also the subject of national news centuries ago, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.

After writing his book, “12 Years a Slave,” Northup’s story was featured in an 1853 New York Times article titled, “The Kidnapping Case: Narrative of the Seizure and REcovery of Solomon Northrup.”

A New York Times article from 1853 documents the incredible true story told in the hit movie "Twelves Years a Slave." (Image source: Screen grab)
A New York Times article from 1853 documents the incredible true story told in the hit movie “Twelves Years a Slave.” (Image source: Screen grab)

The article details how Northrup was drugged in Washington D.C. and brutally kidnapped:

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 handcuffed. 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 was 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 wrists. 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 anyone that he was a free man.

It later discussed his rescue:

By the laws of Louisiana no man can be punished there for having sold Solomon into slavery wrongfully, because more than two years had elapsed since he was sold; and no recovery can be had for his services, because he was bought without the knowledge that he was a free citizen.

The Times article then proceeds to describe Northup attempts to bring a pair of individuals to justice for allegedly kidnapping him.

Northup distinctly swears to their being the persons—and told how he was hired at Saratoga Springs in 1841, to go South with them to join a Circus, and treated in Washington with drugged liquor, &c., &c.

Click here to read the entire New York Times story.

(H/T: Smithsonian Magazine)

Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter