What if Solomon Northup was never rescued?

Oct 2017
356
America ??
What makes Solomon Northup’s memoir particularly special is the fact that it remains the only book length slave narrative by a kidnapped legally free person.

Two or three main scenarios here of course, first is that he would have died a slave, either through being killed or sick, second is that he would have escaped, either successfully or not, or long term or not, either to freedom or not. Solomon mentions plans of escape freqnetly in his memoir so seems very trigger or pedal friendly with that, so I’m quite inclined to believe he would have built upon & experimented with that a lot.

The Thirteenth Amendment was 24 years, a quarter of a century, after Solomon was kidnapped, the emancipation proclamation 2 years earlier of course, so actually within his potential lifetime. Union soldiers did actually pass by Epps plantation, taking the slaves along, according to documents & memoirs, so Solomon would likely have been part of that if he could make it that long. He could have been transferred to other masters & states as well, though less likely as Epps seemed to hold on to him with a firm fist.

Of course if he died a slave, his fate would never have been known, he wouldn’t have been known to history, perhaps at most slight mention of his disappearance by his family & home town officials, just as most kidnap cases are only known this way. As his memoir remains the most well known kidnapping case, our knowledge of the nature of kidnapping free colored people into slavery would be far less than it currently is. His case seems to serve as the main model to studying & understanding kidnapping free collided people. Without Solomon, it may be like that with rest of the americas, barely documented & known.

What are your thoughts?
 
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Aug 2012
16
Ballston Spa, NY
In the spring of 1863, Capt. Henry C. Devendorf wrote a letter in which he mentioned encountering some of Edwin Epps' slaves (Epps owned Northup for most of the time he was a slave). Devendorf tried to get the slave Bob (who remembered Northup) to leave with the army. He wouldn't, but Patsey did.

Many slaves left their owners as Union troops reached their areas. If, in 1863, Northup had still been alive and at the Epps plantation (or, at some other plantation "liberated" by Northern soldiers), he would likely have gained freedom. He would have been in his mid-50s.

Not long after the end of the war, a reporter traveling through Alabama related this encounter: "One old man, 76 years old, born in the North, and a free man, had been kidnapped at the age of 15 and had been held in Slavery sixty-three years. He said this was the first chance he had had in all these long years of Slavery to regain his liberty, and he was bound to avail himself of it."

For more on Devendorf's letter, see:
"Seeking Patsey's Fate"

David Fiske
Co-author, Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave
Author, Solomon Northup's Kindred: The Kidnapping of Free Citizens before the Civil War