David Fiske's Solomon Northup's Kindred reveals the abhorrent conditions and greed that resulted in the kidnapping of American citizens. Factors like early fugitive slave laws, the invention of the cotton gin, the 1808 ban on importing slaves into the United States, and the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision made these crimes highly profitable. Fiske sheds much-needed light on the practice of kidnapping, explaining how it was carried out, identifying conditions that allowed kidnappers to operate, and describing methods for combating the crime. He offers dozens of case studies along with documentation from across historical newspaper reports, anti-slavery literature, local history books, and academic publications to provide an accurate account of kidnapping crimes of the time.
David Fiske, MLS, is a librarian and researcher with extensive experience in African American history. His published works include Solomon Northup: His Life Before and After Slavery and Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave.
Most kidnapped free blacks were forcibly abducted, but other methods, such as luring victims with job offers or falsely claiming free people as fugitive slaves, were used as well. Kidnapping of blacks was actually facilitated by numerous state laws, as well as the federal fugitive slave laws of 1793 and 1850. Greed motivated kidnappers, who were assured high profits on the sale of their victims. As the internal slave trade increased in the early nineteenth century, so did kidnapping.
If greed provided the motivation for the crime, racism helped it to continue unabated. Victims usually found it extremely difficult to regain their freedom through a legal system that reflected society's racist views, perpetuated a racial double standard, and considered all blacks slaves until proven otherwise. Fortunate was the victim who received assistance, sometimes from government officials, most often from abolitionists. Frequently, however, the black community was forced to protect its own and organized to do so, sometimes by working within the law, sometimes by meeting violence with violence.
Mining newspaper accounts, memoirs, slave narratives, court records, letters, abolitionist society minutes, and government documents, Carol Wilson has provided a needed addition to our picture of free black life in the United States.
This book examines Northup's life as a slave and reveals details of his life after he regained his freedom, relating how he traveled around the Northeast giving public lectures, worked with an Underground Railroad agent in Vermont to help fugitive slaves reach freedom in Canada, and was connected with several theatrical productions based upon his experiences. The tale of Northup's life demonstrates how the victims of the American system of slavery were not just the slaves themselves, but any free person of color—all of whom were potential kidnap victims, and whose lives were affected by that constant threat.