Twelve Years a Slave

Solomon Northup's riveting tale of abduction, slavery, and regained freedom

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In 1841 Solomon Northup, a free black New Yorker, was kidnapped in Washington, DC, and sold to slave trader James Birch. Renaming Northup "Platt Hamilton," Birch created a fictitious backstory for Platt before shipping him south via the brig Orleans to his partner Theophilus Freeman in New Orleans. After being sold from Freeman's slave pen to planter William Ford, Northup spent twelve years illegally enslaved on central Louisiana sugar and cotton plantations.

Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave, now celebrated as an Academy Award–winning film, is one of the best-documented slave narratives from the antebellum period. Published in 1853, just one year after Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, it sold more than thirty thousand copies in three years. The narrative, much of its detail substantiated by the historical record, provides an exceptional window on the world of the slave trade and illuminates the efforts of one man to navigate his way back to freedom.

This object was one of more than 75 original artifacts on display in the special exhibition, Purchased Lives: The American Slave Trade from 1808 to 1865.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Twelve Years a Slave Artifact from New Orleans
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