Solomon Northup's Release from Slavery

By David Fiske
Posted January 2, 2015

Not long after his arrival in Louisiana, lawyer Henry B. Northup found out from Samuel Bass that Solomon Northup was a slave at the Epps plantation (Bass even drew Henry a map). Henry worked with John P. Waddill, a local attorney, to start legal proceedings to free Solomon. They drew up papers in which, as Northup writes "I was made plaintiff, Mr. Northup acting as my guardian, and Edwin Epps defendant. The process to be issued was in the nature of replevin, directed to the sheriff of the parish, commanding him to take me into custody, and detain me until the decision of the court."

Having obtaining the signature of a local judge, on the third day of January in 1853 Henry hurried to the Epps plantation with the sheriff, who put some questions to "Platt" that were meant to establish that he indeed was the Solomon Northup whom Henry had come to rescue. After Solomon answered several questions satisfactorily, he embraced Henry, who told him: "Throw down that sack...your cotton-picking days are over." Solomon was taken from Epps and "sequestered" by the Sheriff, until the matter could be settled in court the following April.

Luckily for Solomon, the parties met on January 4, "in a room in the village of Marksville," according to Twelve Years a Slave. The various papers and sworn statements Henry had brought from New York State were reviewed. According to a newspaper account printed in a Savannah newspaper (Daily Morning News, Jan. 22, 1853), "the defendant's [Epps'] counsel stated to the client that the case was a plain one, and the man should be at once given up without further legal proceedings, or expense. This advice was followed..." Consequently, there was no need to wait until April, and Solomon was legally freed at once, at which point, according to Solomon "Mr. Northup and myself immediately hastened to the landing, and taking passage on the first steamer that arrived, were soon floating down Red River...."

During the Civil War, Edwin C. Bidwell, a Federal cavalryman, spoke to the clerk of the court, who said the paperwork that freed Solomon had passed through his hands, and who also confirmed the veracity of Solomon's narrative. See:
Dr. Edwin C. Bidwell - Case of the Kidnapped Northrop [Northup]

I would like to thank Cliff McCarthy for informing me of the Bidwell document. Cliff also wrote the following blog post about Northup:
"Twelve Years a Slave" Has a 160 Year History

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

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You can purchase autographed copies of these books. Go to Book Order page

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Go to Solomon Northup page (