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Solomon Northup is a carpenter and also plays the violin. Two members of a circus company approach him and offer him a job as a violinist working for them. Solomon agreed and without telling his wife, he traveled to New York with them.
However, when he wakes up he is bound and held captive as a slave. He proclaimed his status as a “free man” but as a result he was beaten. He is then taken to New Orleans where he meets a sympathizer to slaves, and he convinces him to send a letter to his family.
Northup’s first employer was William Ford who ran a lumber mill. He was treated badly and punished but his carpentry skills did come of great use. Northup was also leased to other slave owners, including Tibeats, who attempted to beat him and Solomon fought against him, which led to further punishment.
His next employer was Edwin Epps, a unpleasant cotton planter who had a sadistic aura about him. Epps made use of Solomon’s skill and often made him whip other slaves. Solomon then meets and befriends Samuel Bass, a white man who works on the plantation. He confides in him and states that he is actually a free man. Solomon sent letters to his family through Bass and his situation was made aware to a man names Parker who notified Henry Northup, a white lawyer and Solomon’s friend.
Henry then travels to the cotton plant in order to set Solomon free. He hires attorney, John Waddill to assist him in his quest. They were able to set Solomon free. When Solomon filed a lawsuit against the men who sold him, he lost.
He then returns to his family after twelve years of imprisonment, as a free man.
Twelve Years a Slave Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.
“Twelve Years a Slave” is the autobiographical account of Solomon Northup’s years spent as a slave in Louisiana. Solomon Northup is born a free man in upstate New York in July of 1808. There, he aspires to work and raise a family as any ordinary American might do. While looking for work, his skills as a violinist are sought by two white men, who later arrange for Solomon to be kidnapped and sold into slavery. Solomon is transported to New Orleans, where he is sold to William Ford, whom Solomon describes as deeply religious and kind, though blinded to the evils of slavery based on his upbringing. Ford protects and cares for Solomon until Ford’s finances force him to sell Solomon, where he ultimately ends up in the hands of Edwin Epps, a disgusting, cruel, and vile man who routinely beats his slaves for even the slightest offenses. It is under Epps that Solomon labors for ten years until a crew of white men come to construct a house on the Epps property. One of the laborers, a transplanted Canadian named Bass who favors abolition, writes to New York on Epps’ behalf, securing the services of Henry B. Northup, a local white New York lawyer from whom Solomon’s family has taken their last name. Northup takes Solomon’s case to the Governor of New York, from where Northup travels to Washington, D.C., to gain letters of support. From there, he travels to Louisiana and has Solomon freed. Solomon then returns to his grown children and loving wife in New York. He vows to enjoy the rest of his life.
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