Seeking Patsey's Fate

by David Fiske

Early in 2014, an article in Vanity Fair, written by Katie Calautti, detailed her attempt to discover the fate of Patsey.

I missed seeing (until weeks later) a comment to that article, posted on March 12 by "Mhartz." The comment included a link to an old newspaper item that gives a clue as to Patsey's fate. (I wish I had been the one to find it, but my thanks go to Mhartz for posting the information.)

from the Mexico [NY] Independent, June 18, 1863.
Letter from Capt. Henry C. Devendorf, sent from Alexandria, Louisiana, May 11, 1863 to "Nell."

He notes that troops from the 110th NYS Regiment had traveled along Bayou Boeuf. Devendorf, looking for a good place to camp writes that he "came to a bridge across tha bayou,...on which stood a couple of negroes. I asked one of them, about 30 years old...what his name was. He answered, Bob. "Who do you live with?" "Master Epes" Bob and Epes: Solomon Northrup immediately occurred to me, and I asked him if he ever knew a slave by the name of Platt. "Oh! golly, yes, master," said he. "He raised me. I guess I does know him." He came to our camp at night and proved to be the veritable Bob of Solomon Northrup celebrity, and Massa Epes the same master, and we were there on his plantation, the same that Solomon had worked on so many years."

Devendorf tried to get Bob to come away with him, but he said he had to stay to look after his mother [Northup writes that Phebe had two sons, Bob and Henry].

Devendorf continues: "I found on inquiry among the negroes about that Platt was a very popular darkey among them; also that his story was true. Patsy went away with our army last week, so she is at last far from the caprices of her jealoous mistress."

So, from Devendorf's letter, it seems that Patsey was able to escape the Epps plantation, thanks to friendly New York troops. What then became of her? Let us hope for another breakthough!


Update, March 22, 2017

Unfortunately, the comments to the Vanity Fair article, linked to above, appear to have been removed (at least, as of March 22, 2017).

On March 21, 2017, an article by Jonathan W. White was published online. The article included some quoted material from Northup's book relating to Patsey, as well as the Devendorf letter. It also quotes another letter, by Private John Hall, who made mention of the slaves at the Epps plantation--Patsey was not among them. You can view his letter, published in a Vermont newspaper in 1863.

White's article can be viewed online.

I first posted a tweet to the page you are reading on November 17, 2015:


Full biography of Solomon Northup, Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave.
Information at Solomon Northup page

Book cover, Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave

Solomon Northup was the most well-known kidnapping victim, but he was by no means the only one. The 2016 book, Solomon Northup's Kindred: The Kidnapping of Free Citizens before the Civil War, tells about many others who were kidnapped and sold into slavery. The book also provides historical background that explains why kidnappers were able to operate with relative ease.

Book cover, Solomon Northup's Kindred: The Kidnapping of Free Citizens before the Civil War

Go to Solomon Northup page (solomonnorthup.com)