The Best Selling Classic Novel of American Slavery
The 1853 Slave Narrative Memoir
12 Years a Slave
Narrative of Solomon Northup
The first scholarly edition of Northup's memoir, co-edited in 1968 by Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon, carefully retraced and validated the account and concluded it to be accurate.
Northup's account describes the daily life of slaves at Bayou Boeuf in Louisiana, their diet and living conditions, the relationship between master and slave, and the means that slave catchers used to recapture runaways. Northup's slave narrative has details similar to those of some other authors, such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Ann Jacobs, and William Wells Brown. However, he was unique in documenting being kidnapped as a free man and sold into slavery. His perspective was always to compare what he saw to what he knew before as a free man. While there were hundreds of such kidnappings, he was among the few who were freed from such slavery.
Twelve Years a Slave (1853) sub-title: Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana, is a memoir by Solomon Northup as told to and edited by David Wilson. It is a slave narrative of a black man who was born free in New York state but kidnapped in Washington, D.C., sold into slavery, and kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana. He provided details of slave markets in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, as well as describing at length cotton and sugar cultivation on major plantations in Louisiana.
The work was published soon after Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel about slavery, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) to which it gave factual support. Northup's book of 1853 sold 30,000 copies and was considered a bestseller.
After being published in several editions in the 19th century, the book fell into obscurity for nearly 100 years, until it was re-discovered on separate occasions by two Louisiana historians, Sue Eakin (Louisiana State University at Alexandria) and Joseph Logsdon (University of New Orleans). In the early 1960s, they researched and retraced Solomon Northup's journey and co-edited a historically annotated version that was published by LSU Press in 1968. More recently, a critically acclaimed feature film, 12 Years a Slave (2013) directed by Steve McQueen and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup was released.