If you were one of millions that watched or read about how the Movie “12 Years a Slave” beat the odds and netted the Best Picture of the year award, now you have a chance to read the 1853 account itself. According to the Smithsonian Magazine 116 days after Solomon Northup’s heralding rescue, the New York Times went to press with the incredible story which even now stirs emotional feelings.
By now most people are aware of how Northup’ a free blackman who had been an accomplished violinist in Saratoga, New York was kidnapped while in Washington D.C. and sold into slavery in Louisiana. What followers of his story have not been able to do is read the actual accounts of his terrifying experience as readers of 1853 were becoming familiar with his perilous captivity and escape to freedom.
At the time of Northup’s capture and for the following 12 years not even his family or friends were aware of his suffering and determination to endure the withering hardships of day-to-day slavery. As moving as the movie has portrayed Northup’s story it becomes more compelling by reading the actual press coverage which continued for months after his rescue, reported the Smithsonian Magazine.
What has to be intriguing for readers of this century is how 151 years ago, the justice system as well as the public itself reacted to the a most compelling rendering of a man who never abandoned his sense of dignity. Shortly after regaining his freedom his book “Twelve Years a Slave” came out and sold over 30,000 copies.
His eventual freedom was not the end of the story. In fact those who kidnapped him 12 years earlier were brought to trial twice. The first trial ended with no conviction of James H. Burch, a slave dealer, in large part due to a law in Washington D.C. at the time that prevented black witnesses from testifying in court against white men, according to the Smithsonian Magazine.
The second trial which was held in New York was held in 1854 and focused on the two men, Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell who had actually tricked Solomon into joining them in the nation’s capitol to perform in a traveling circus. Northup was able to testify, but as in the first trial the two men were set free, despite appeals.