Twelve Years a Slave is a memoir of a black man who was born free in New York state but kidnapped, sold into slavery and kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana before the American Civil War. He provided details of slave markets in Washington, DC, as well as describing at length cotton cultivation on major plantations in Louisiana.
Published soon after Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Northup's book sold 30,000 copies and was considered a bestseller. It went through several editions in the nineteenth century. Supporting Stowe's fictional narrative in detail, Northup’s first-hand account of his twelve years of bondage proved another bombshell in the national political debate over slavery leading up to the Civil War, drawing endorsements from major Northern newspapers, anti-slavery organizations, and evangelical groups.
‘Why had I not died in my young years – before God had given me children to love and live for? What unhappiness and suffering and sorrow it would have prevented. I sighed for liberty; but the bondsman's chain was round me, and could not be shaken off.’
1841: Solomon Northup is a successful violinist when he is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Taken from his family in New York State – with no hope of ever seeing them again – and forced to work on the cotton plantations in the Deep South, he spends the next twelve years in captivity until his eventual escape in 1853.
First published in 1853, this extraordinary true story proved to be a powerful voice in the debate over slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War. It is a true-life testament of one man’s courage and conviction in the face of unfathomable injustice and brutality: its influence on the course of American history cannot be overstated.
This edition includes the full book as well as a comprehensive companion with historical notes, character overview, themes overview, and chapter summaries.