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. The ship left Richmond on April 27, 1841, and arrived in New Orleans three weeks later, on May 24, carrying a cargo of forty-one men, women, and children, including Northup, who is listed as "Plat Hamilton" on line 33 of the ship manifest below. His shipmate Eliza, listed as "Drady Cooper," and her children are the final entries on that manifest. 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. Ford also purchased Eliza, but her children were sold to other buyers.

Northup's autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave, was published in 1853, just one year after Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and sold more than thirty thousand copies in three years. With details such as Eliza's sale substantiated by the historical record, the narrative 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. 



Twelve Years a Slave
by Solomon Northup
London: Miller, Orton, and Mulligan, 1854 (first British edition)
THNOC, 72-87-L.8

Journal of John Pamplin Waddill, Louisiana lawyer hired to free Solomon Northup
January 1 and 4, 1853
courtesy of Liz Brazelton

Notarized act of sale of Harry, aged about twenty; Platt [Solomon Northup], aged about twenty-three; and Dradey [Eliza], aged about twenty, by Theophilus Freeman of New Orleans to William Prince Ford of Rapides Parish
June 23, 1841
courtesy of the Notarial Archives Division, Dale N. Atkins, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans 

Manifest of forty-one slaves shipped on the brig Orleans from Richmond to New Orleans
April 27, 1841
courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Forth Worth, Texas

Advertisement offering "Cash for 400 Negroes" placed by James J. Birch, Washington City
from the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington City, DC)
June 11, 1836
THNOC, 79-95-L.13

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