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Twelve Years a Slave - Enhanced Edition by Dr. Sue Eakin Based on a Lifetime Project. New Info, Images, Maps (English Edition)
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Twelve Years a Slave - Enhanced Edition by Dr. Sue Eakin Based on a Lifetime Project. New Info, Images, Maps (English Edition) [Format Kindle]

Solomon Northup , Dr. Sue Eakin

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Twelve Years a Slave


Having been born a freeman, and for more than thirty years enjoyed the blessings of liberty in a free State-and having at the end of that time been kidnapped and sold into Slavery, where I remained, until happily rescued in the month of January, 1853, after a bondage of twelve years—it has been suggested that an account of my life and fortunes would not be uninteresting to the public.

Since my return to liberty, I have not failed to perceive the increasing interest throughout the Northern States, in regard to the subject of Slavery. Works of fiction, professing to portray its features in their more pleasing as well as more repugnant aspects, have been circulated to an extent unprecedented, and, as I understand, have created a fruitful topic of comment and discussion.

I can speak of Slavery only so far as it came under my own observation—only so far as I have known and experienced it in my own person. My object is, to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage.

As far back as I have been able to ascertain, my ancestors on the paternal side were slaves in Rhode Island. They belonged to a family by the name of Northup, one of whom, removing to the State of New York, settled at Hoosic, in Rensselaer county. He brought with him Mintus Northup, my father. On the death of this gentleman, which must have occurred some fifty years ago, my father became free, having been emancipated by a direction in his will.

Henry B. Northup, Esq., of Sandy Hill, a distinguished counselor at law, and the man to whom, under Providence, I am indebted for my present liberty, and my return to the society of my wife and children, is a relative of the family in which my forefathers were thus held to service, and from which they took the name I bear. To this fact may be attributed the persevering interest he has taken in my behalf.

Sometime after my father’s liberation, he removed to the town of Minerva, Essex county, N. Y., where I was born, in the month of July, 1808. How long he remained in the latter place I have not the means of definitely ascertaining. From thence he removed to Granville, Washington county, near a place known as Slyborough, where, for some years, he labored on the farm of Clark Northup, also a relative of his old master; from thence he removed to the Alden farm, at Moss Street, a short distance north of the village of Sandy Hill; and from thence to the farm now owned by Russel Pratt, situated on the road leading from Fort Edward to Argyle, where he continued to reside until his death, which took place on the 22d day of November, 1829. He left a widow and two children —myself, and Joseph, an elder brother. The latter is still living in the county of Oswego, near the city of that name; my mother died during the period of my captivity.

Though born a slave, and laboring under the disadvantages to which my unfortunate race is subjected, my father was a man respected for his industry and integrity, as many now living, who well remember him, are ready to testify. His whole life was passed in the peaceful pursuits of agriculture, never seeking employment in those more menial positions, which seem to be especially allotted to the children of Africa. Besides giving us an education surpassing that ordinarily bestowed upon children in our condition, he acquired, by his diligence and economy, a sufficient property qualification to entitle him to the right of suffrage. He was accustomed to speak to us of his early life; and although at all times cherishing the warmest emotions of kindness, and even of affection towards the family, in whose house he had been a bondsman, he nevertheless comprehended the system of Slavery, and dwelt with sorrow on the degradation of his race. He endeavored to imbue our minds with sentiments of morality, and to teach us to place our, trust and confidence in Him who regards the humblest as well as the highest of his creatures. How often since that time has the recollection of his paternal counsels occurred to me, while lying in a slave hut in the distant and sickly regions of Louisiana, smarting with the undeserved wounds which an inhuman master had inflicted, and longing only for the grave which had covered him, to shield me also from the lash of the oppressor. In the church yard at Sandy Hill, an humble stone marks the spot where he reposes, after having worthily performed the duties appertaining to the lowly sphere wherein God had appointed him to walk.

Up to this period I had been principally engaged with my father in the labors of the farm. The leisure hours allowed me were generally either employed over my books, or playing on the violin—an amusement which was the ruling passion of my youth. It has also been the source of consolation since, affording, pleasure to the simple beings with whom my lot was cast, and beguiling my own thoughts, for many hours, from the painful contemplation of my fate.

On Christmas day, 1829, I was married to Anne Hampton, a colored girl then living in the vicinity of our residence. The ceremony was performed at Fort Edward, by Timothy Eddy, Esq., a magistrate of that town, and still a prominent citizen of the place. She had resided a long time at Sandy Hill, with Mr. Baird, proprietor of the Eagle Tavern, and also in the family of Rev. Alexander Proudfit, of Salem. This gentleman for many years had presided over the Presbyterian society at the latter place, and was widely distinguished for his learning and piety. Anne still holds in grateful remembrance the exceeding kindness and the excellent counsels of that good man. She is not able to determine the exact line of her descent, but the blood of three races mingles in her veins. It is difficult to tell whether the red, white, or black predominates. The union of them all, however, in her origin, has given her a singular but pleasing expression, such as is rarely to be seen. Though somewhat resembling, yet she cannot properly be styled a quadroon, a class to which, I have omitted to mention, my mother belonged.

I had just now passed the period of my minority, having reached the age of twenty-one years in the month of July previous. Deprived of the advice and assistance of my father, with a wife dependent upon me for support, I resolved to enter upon a life of industry; and notwithstanding the obstacle of color, and the consciousness of my lowly state, indulged in pleasant dreams of a good time coming, when the possession of some humble habitation, with a few surrounding acres, should reward my labors, and bring me the means of happiness and comfort.

From the time of my marriage to this day the love I have borne my wife has been sincere and unabated; and only those who have felt the glowing tenderness a father cherishes for his offspring, can appreciate my affection for the beloved children which have since been born to us. This much I deem appropriate and necessary to day, in order that those who read these pages, may comprehend the poignancy of those sufferings I have been doomed to bear.

Immediately upon our marriage we commenced house-keeping, in the old yellow building then standing at the southern extremity of Fort Edward village, and which has since been transformed into a modern mansion, and lately occupied by Captain Lathrop. It is known as the Fort House. In this building the courts were sometime held after the organization of the county. It was also occupied by Burgoyne in 1777, being situated near the old Fort on the left bank of the Hudson.

During the winter I was employed with others repairing the Champlain Canal, on that section over which William Van Nortwick was superintendent. David McEachron had the immediate charge of the men in whose company I labored. By the time the canal opened in the spring, I was enabled, from the savings of my wages, to purchase a pair of horses, and other things necessarily required in the business of navigation.

Having hired several efficient hands to assist me, I entered into contracts for the transportation of large rafts of timber from Lake Champlain to Troy. Dyer Beckwith and a Mr. Bartemy, of Whitehall, accompanied me on several trips. During the season I became perfectly familiar with the art and mysteries of rafting—a knowledge which afterwards enabled me to render profitable service to a worthy master, and to astonish the simple-witted lumbermen on the banks of the Bayou Boeuf.

In one of my voyages down Lake Champlain, I was induced to make a visit to Canada. Repairing to Montreal, I visited the cathedral and other places of interest in that city, from whence I continued my excursion to Kingston and other towns, obtaining a knowledge of localities, which was also of service to me afterwards, as will appear towards the close of this narrative.

Having completed my contracts on the canal satisfactorily to myself and to my employer, and not wishing to remain idle, now that the navigation of the canal was again suspended, I entered into another contract with Medad Gunn, to cut a large quantity of wood. In this business I was engaged during the winter of 1831-32.

With the return of spring, Anne and myself conceived the project of taking a farm in the neighborhood. I had been accustomed from earliest youth to agricultural labors, and it was an occupation congenial to my tastes. I accordingly entered into arrangements for a part of the old Alden farm, on which my father formerly resided. With one cow, one swine, a yoke of fine oxen I had lately purchased of Lewis Brown, in Hartford, and other personal property and effects, we proceeded to our new home in Kingsbury. That year I planted twenty-five acres of corn, sowed large fields of oats, and commenced farming...

Revue de presse

“For sheer drama, few accounts of slavery match Solomon Northup’s tale of abduction from freedom and forcible enslavement.” —Ira Berlin, from the Introduction

“When I read [Twelve Years a Slave] for the first time, it was like the first time I read Anne Frank’s diary. And I wondered to myself, ‘Why isn’t this book on everyone’s bookshelf.’ . . . For me, it’s a classic. It should be in every school.” —Steve McQueen, director of the film adaptation of Twelve Years a Slave, in Entertainment Weekly

“Frightening, gripping and inspiring . . . Northup’s story seems almost biblical, structured as it is as a descent and resurrection narrative of a protagonist who, like Christ, was 33 at the time of his abduction. . . . Northup reminds us of the fragile nature of freedom in any human society and the harsh reality that whatever legal boundaries existed between so-called free states and slave states in 1841, no black man, woman or child was permanently safe.” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Root

“A moving, vital testament to one of slavery’s ‘many thousands gone’ who retained his humanity in the bowels of degradation. It is also a chilling insight into the ‘peculiar institution.’” Saturday Review

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  • Format : Format Kindle
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  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 138 pages
  • Pagination - ISBN de l'édition imprimée de référence : 1499102534
  • Editeur : Eakin Films & Publishing; Édition : Enhanced (15 janvier 2014)
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  • Langue : Anglais
  • ASIN: B00EFDZ288
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3 internautes sur 3 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 L'Amérique essaie enfin de faire face à son avenir 22 janvier 2014
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
The main interest of the book is of course the “autobiographical testimony” it contains. But this particular edition is enriched with notes and various appendices written by the two editors. These notes and appendices create a real perspective providing all available documents or press clippings about most elements the book contains and we cannot be aware of today. The people who are named are then expanded with concrete information and data about who they were and what they did. The events that are mentioned are thoroughly documented from the press of the time and from all available registers and alternative testimonies. The notes and appendices turn the “biographical testimony” into a document that can be considered as mostly truthful beyond the personal vision the author provides us with, for example the fact that he only sees one side of Louisiana as we will mention later, the American takeover and their practice of slavery as chattel exploitation. Solomon Northup could of course not know better and is well forced to ignore the French or Spanish conceptions.

As such this book is a phenomenal tool for people who really want to know what slavery was some 20 to 10 years before the Civil War in the American tradition. It provides us with a detailed description of the treatment, exploitation and management of slaves in the South, even if it only concerns the American side of Louisiana forty years after the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon and France. What’s more it provides us with a panorama of what the Northern states and their citizens could know about the practice of this peculiar institution in the Southern States since this book was published in 1853 and was quite successful at the time.
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Très intéressant! 31 mars 2014
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
Un anglais classique et donc facile à lire, une histoire intéressante et surprenante....
Un très bon livre, vraiment!
Je recommande.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 4.7 étoiles sur 5  51 commentaires
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Makes slavery real. 21 janvier 2014
Par Xman - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
I was curious how accurately the recent movie followed the book, the answer being pretty closely. Fundamentally it's a well-written book because I think it conveys the hopelessness and frustration of the slave even better than the movie, and also convincingly shows the institution's corrupting influence upon the owner class (to varying extents depending on the individual). All the details fall into place, and it simply "rings true".

Warning: this book is written in a somewhat archaic style by an early-19th-century ghostwriter: there are some old-fashioned and usages, a few words I didn't recognize, and it can be verbose by today's standards. There are also some attempts to pander to the prejudices of white readers of the time, and the sexual predator aspect of slavery is discussed somewhat obliquely due to 19th-century sensibilities. But overall I strongly recommend this book. It's a fascinating historical story, the writing works at the fundamental level, and it's a less brutal experience to read this book than to see the movie, because one doesn't have to imagine every horrifying detail.
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4.0 étoiles sur 5 Ghost-writed, but well organized and good source of informations about slavery, in United States 1 mai 2014
Par Dalton C. Rocha - Publié sur
Here in Brazil, I read this good book.
This book has these main qualities:
1- Writen originally in XIX century, this book is 100% well organized. Even for today's standards.
2- Even clearly ghost-writed, this book tells the facts, the truth about how was United States' slavery in XIX century.
3- Notes writen in last decades are a good thing in this book.
4- This book is concise.
5- This book shows that slavery was the normal way of life in many parts of the United States. Connecticut had slavery until 1848. Until the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act, on April 16, 1862, Washington, D.C. itself had slavery.
6- As a Brazilian, I can read the similiarities between slavery in United States and in Brazil at the same decades. Beyond doubt, without American Civil War (1861-1865) slavery would died in United even after in Brazil. In Brazil, slavery became over, only in 1888.
7- About the slave's owners, this book shows that they could be good or bad persons.
8- The slave Patsy's whyping is the most crude and perhaps the best part of this book.
9- This book is cheap and easy to understand.
This book has these main problems.
1- At least in the kindle ediction that I bought and read , some documents are too small to be read.
2- At least in the kindle ediction that I bought and read, the book's maps are of weak quality.
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5.0 étoiles sur 5 A book that transcends time 22 janvier 2014
Par Jacques COULARDEAU - Publié sur
The main interest of the book is of course the "autobiographical testimony" it contains. But this particular edition is enriched with notes and various appendices written by the two editors. These notes and appendices create a real perspective providing all available documents or press clippings about most elements the book contains and we cannot be aware of today. The people who are named are then expanded with concrete information and data about who they were and what they did. The events that are mentioned are thoroughly documented from the press of the time and from all available registers and alternative testimonies. The notes and appendices turn the "biographical testimony" into a document that can be considered as mostly truthful beyond the personal vision the author provides us with, for example the fact that he only sees one side of Louisiana as we will mention later, the American takeover and their practice of slavery as chattel exploitation. Solomon Northup could of course not know better and is well forced to ignore the French or Spanish conceptions.

As such this book is a phenomenal tool for people who really want to know what slavery was some 20 to 10 years before the Civil War in the American tradition. It provides us with a detailed description of the treatment, exploitation and management of slaves in the South, even if it only concerns the American side of Louisiana forty years after the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon and France. What's more it provides us with a panorama of what the Northern states and their citizens could know about the practice of this peculiar institution in the Southern States since this book was published in 1853 and was quite successful at the time. One document is given in the appendices: "An Act more effectually to protect the free citizens of this state from being kidnapped, or reduced to Slavery" passed in the State of New York on May 14, 1840. Solomon Northup was abducted in 1841 and that date makes the abduction a crime that intentionally breaks a standing law in the State of New York. Facts like that proves that more than twenty years before the Civil War the horror of slavery was known in the North. There cannot be any denial about that.

This "autobiographical testimony" played a tremendous role in the awareness of the barbaric practice of slavery by spreading a direct and believable description of what everyday life could be for a slave and the lawsuits and court decisions in Washington DC after the retrieval of Solomon Northup from slavery make it impossible for us to minimize or soften the picture. Some may think the author has darkened the vision for commercial or ideological reasons, but that is going against a whole set of documents, some documentary and some fictional, that depict the very same situation and at times with more brutality. The recent film Django Unchained (2011) goes a lot farther in that terroristic violence, even showing the practice of using some of these slaves in to-the-death fights for the entertainment of whites with bets and other monetary stakes attached to these "fights." The famous letter of Willie Lynch also goes a lot farther and insists on torturing one male slave to death and suggesting to reach it by quartering the male slave with four horses tied up to each one of his four legs and arms, the whole "show" in front of all the slaves, particularly the children to induce the mothers into making their children obedient and to induce the children into being obedient by the horror of such torturing scenes that could last hours. We will consider the vision given by some like Booker T. Washington later as being nothing but a dubious "softening of the picture." Understanding why it was done is essential if we want to understand why slavery was kept alive in segregation, lynching and systematic disfranchisement and violence against the blacks that were to last more than one century after the passing and ratification of the 13th and 14th amendments.


Here I would like to insist on the special case of Louisiana which was colonized by the French at the beginning of the 18th century and entrusted at the end of this 18th century to the Spanish. The two colonizing powers did not practice slavery the same way but one thing is common: the role of the Catholic Church in keeping slavery within some moderate limits. On the French side they had the "Code Noir" that is clear about many elements that are absolutely refused by the Americans meaning the British colonists who became American colonists in 1776. The Catholic Church insisted on christening children and parents, imposing the respect of Christian sacraments like marriage. It accepted marriages between people from the various communities, Indians and blacks as well as whites. Intermarriages were definitely sanctified, even if they were not encouraged by some, by the Catholic Church of France and Spain. Solomon Northup is clear about the American practice in American Louisiana:

"Marriage is frequently contracted during the holidays [3 to 6 days for Christmas], if such an institution may be said to exist among them [the slaves]. The only ceremony required before entering into that "holy estate," is to obtain the consent of the respective owners. It is usually encouraged by the masters of female slaves. Either party can have as many husbands or wives as the owner will permit, and either is at liberty to discard the other at pleasure. The law in relation to divorce, or to bigamy, and so forth, is not applicable to property, of course." (page 130)

And at the same time Solomon Northup gives the example of one planter who "married" [the text is not explicit whether the religious sacrament attached to marriage was performed or not] a black slave:

""Shaw was generally surrounded by such worthless characters [allusion to Armsby who betrayed Solomon when contacted to help for his liberation], being himself noted as a gambler and unprincipled man. He had made a wife of his slave Charlotte [also called Harriet in another chapter, one name probably being the "wife"'s name and the other her slave name used by the slaves to speak of her], and a brood of young mulattoes were growing up in his house." (page137)

We must understand that such unsanctified unions were tolerated because any white man could use any black women as a sexual "partner" that could not say no and did not have to say yes to any request. Here we have two elements. On one hand the fact that sexual activities among slaves are nothing but regulated insemination that produces small slaves that are the property and chattel of the owner of the female slave. We understand then why the owner of female slaves encourage sexual partnerships and as many as possible and with no permanence whatsoever. On the other hand to have sexual relations with a black slave is legitimate for a white man [we assume this is only valid for white males though we do not have any idea whether white females could have or had any sexual relationships with black males. At the same time we only consider here procreative sexual relationships, hence heterosexual relationships, though, men being men, we can think that quite a few male slaves were raped regularly.] since the slave is his property and he can do what he wants with his property, including destroy it if such is his desire. The book is clear that the wife of the main planter is just as vicious with one female slave as her husband is with all the slaves.

Another practice on the French and Spanish sides is manumission, the fact that a slave can be bought out of slavery either by some free independent person or by himself. This practice led to a three-tiered society on the French and Spanish side in which between the lower class of the slaves and the top class of the planters, the merchants and other economic, political or military important people, you had a vast middle group composed of free people of color and poor whites. On the American side this is absolutely marginal because of the "one drop theory" for which one drop of black blood makes you black, hence a slave in the South. It is the existence of this middle social group that explains why Louisiana was on the side of the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War but changed sides very fast and moved back to the Union in 1862, which made Louisiana crucial for the ratification of the 13th amendment to the US Constitution. This of course is not said directly in this book because we are solely on the American side of Louisiana.


We can now turn to the book and give the main characteristics of this "peculiar institution" that slavery was in the South.

A slave has no identity. His common name is given to him by the slave dealer or the slave's owner. If any precision is needed to differentiate two slaves who would have the same common name the name of the slave's owner is added to the common name. The origin of a slave is also extremely vague. He may have a birth place though there is no guarantee that the birth place attributed to a slave is accurate. Same thing about the birth date and all other data about the slave. A slave is in fact identified by his physical and visible characteristics: color, height, muscular structure, strength, etc. A "white" black slave is of course not "white" but "pale." We have to understand that the proportion of mixed bloods or mulattoes or whatever ( lists 35 synonyms of "mulatto") is a lot higher than is believed but the two-tiered society of the "one blood theory and practice" makes such differences marginal, whereas they can become essential in a three-tiered society (check Denise Oliver-Velez, an adjunct Professor of Anthropology and Women's Studies at SUNY New Paltz, a Featured Writer for Daily Kos, and an editor of Black Kos, on the subject, at

A slave has only one function in life: to work physically and produce whatever the owner requires to be produced on the plantation. This book deals with cotton and sugar and actually gives a detailed description of the cultivation of cotton and sugarcane and the harvesting of cotton as well as the harvesting and processing of sugar cane to produce both white and brown sugar. This is an important aspect of the book because it gives us a close vision of the economic side of slave agriculture. The book is clear about the particular qualifications and skills slaves have and the fact that they are used accordingly. Solomon for example is a jack of all trades on the plantation and as for the cultivation of cotton or his being hired to sugar cane plantations, it is clear that he is not skilled in the direct harvesting of cotton and hence is not employed for it, though on the other hand he is skilled for the harvesting of sugar cane. Furthermore since he is able to take care and repair machines, do a lot of carpentry or wood work, he is often used as a craftsman or a technician, particularly for the building of various structures, the overlooking of sugar production and as a black driver on the side of cotton cultivation and harvesting. Solomon insists on one aspect of his accepting to be a black driver, which he cannot refuse anyway. He uses the whip a lot but he never or hardly hit the other slaves and some kind of arrangement is reached: the black driver in a way protects the slaves provided they respect their quotas. We reach here another element.

The work of slaves is measured. Each slave is submitted to one particular task under duress, which means with a lot of whipping around or on his body. The amount of work or harvesting done in such conditions is set as the minimum the concerned slave has to produce. All slaves do not have the same quotas though all slaves have to be over the minimum considered as profit making by the owner. It is important then that the slaves respect their personal "minimum." If they do not reach it, they will be punished, which means whipped. If they do more then their minimum is increased and if they do not reach this new minimum on a regular basis they will be punished, meaning whipped. To keep such quotas they have to keep a certain rhythm in their work, and this rhythm is essential for Africans who have rhythmic music ingrained in their culture and heritage: chanting for example will become the way to keep the rhythm of their work hence to reach their quotas, just enough, no less no more. We will see later how important this element can be.

They have to work from sunup to sundown, meaning they have to be ready by sunup and they will stop working in the fields by sundown. They have to get ready before and they have to take care of their food, cooking, the animals, their tools after work. They are provided with a limited amount of food, corn meal and bacon, they have to prepare by themselves and worms or other parasites in these two items are just plain food, animal protein as we would say today. Slaves can do some hunting or fishing after work, by night, and they do to supplement their diet with possum meat for example or with fish. Solomon actually invented a fishing trap that enabled his fellow slaves to enrich their diet easily since the fishing trap is working while the slaves are in the fields, and in the evening they just have to pick what's in the trap. This is of course typical of Louisiana where rivers and bayous are everywhere as well as swamps.

A slave is nothing but the tool or the toy of the slave owner or his white personnel. He is exploited, brutalized and used in anyway set by the planter. Solomon Northup gives the example how his owner when drunk made him use his fiddle to play music and forced the slaves to dance all night, though on the following morning their work in the fields will have to be the same. He insists on the case of a young female slave who is used and abused by the planter, which makes his wife jealous and then they kind of manage to pacify their own family life by both victimizing that young female slave. This victimizing, this whipping is always performed in front of everyone: the slaves, the planter and his wife, and the planter's children.


Solomon Northup insists on the case of this girl or woman because he is the one who is ordered to whip her one day for no justified reason whatsoever. She is undressed and tied face down on the ground to four posts and she is whipped moderately by Solomon who refuses - at his own risk - to go beyond some thirty lashes as initially ordered, but then the planter takes over in a frenzy of violence and viciousness in front of his wife, his children and the slaves till the woman is unable to react in the slightest possible way, even with a moan. Solomon Northup insists on the result as for the general attitude and behavior this cruel unwarranted punishment produces.

"Indeed, from that time forward she was not what she had been. The burden of a deep melancholy weighed heavily on her spirits. She no longer moved with that buoyant and elastic step - there was not that mirthful sparkle in her eyes that formerly distinguished her. The bounding vigor - the sprightly, laughter-loving spirit of her youth, were gone. She fell into a mournful and desponding mood, and often-times would start up in her sleep, and with raised hands, plead for mercy. She became more silent than she was, toiling all day in our midst, not uttering a word. A care-worn, pitiful expression settled on her face, and it was her humor now to weep, rather than rejoice. If ever there was a broken heart - one crushed and blighted by the rude grasp of suffering and misfortune - it was Patsey's." (page 154)

There is no better description of the Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome you can find anywhere, and we are a century and a half before the concept was invented. This testimony proves the depth of this trauma that slavery was and the lasting and inerasable impact of this trauma on the psyche of any individual who has suffered it, witnessed it and will transmit it to the next generation as long as they will be able to remember the facts or the stories about the facts.

But we have to insist on two elements here.

The effect on the white children of the planter.

"Epps' oldest son is an intelligent lad of ten or twelve years of age. It is pitiable, sometimes, to see him chastising, for instance, the venerable Uncle Abram [who is supposed to be around 60]. He will call the old man to account, and if in his childish judgment it is necessary, sentence him to a certain number of lashes, which he proceeds to inflict with much gravity and deliberation. Mounted on his pony, he often rides the field with his whip, playing the overseer, greatly to his father's delight. Without discrimination, at such times, he applies the rawhide, urging the slaves forward with shouts, and occasional expression of profanity, while the old man laughs, and commends him as a thorough-going boy. . . On arriving at maturity, the sufferings and miseries of the slave will be looked upon with entire indifference. The influence of the iniquitous system necessarily fosters an unfeeling and cruel spirit, even in the bosom of those who, among their equals, are regarded as humane and generous." (page 155-156)

But we must not be completely mistaken about this trauma and the post traumatic stress syndrome it implies. The victim is deeply affected by it but the victim keeps some reasonable perspective as Patsey's case shows with her reaction when Solomon Northup is leaving for good.

"On my way back to the carriage, Patsey ran from behind a cabin and threw her arms about my neck.
"Oh! Platt," she cried, tears streaming down her face, "you're goin' to be free - you're goin' way off yonder where we'll nebber see you any more. You've saved me a good many whippins, Platt; I'm glad you're goin' to be free - but oh! de Lord, de Lord! What'll become of me?" (page 186-187)

In that trauma Patsey kept only one milestone to which she could attach herself: the slave condition, the solidarity among the slaves, the racial definition of that slave-condition, etc. Just the same way as this mistreatment of slaves produces the attitude of the son who will never be able to consider black people, ex-slaves as being human because deep in his mind they have been registered as animals, chattel, the slaves when they are freed will keep in their own minds this solidarity among slaves, this racial definition of the world cut in two and the whites will always be frightening monsters. This traumatic situation has long lasting effects on both the whites and the blacks and Solomon Northup shows it marvelously. The fact that the slaves were able to survive this traumatic situation that lasted three centuries is because they retained deep in their minds and bodies some African heritage.


Though, and Solomon is clear about that, the slaves are deprived of any education, writing and reading being forbidden, and religion being more or less off limits for them, the slaves retain some fundamental African features and cultural elements.

The physical and hard work and working conditions to which they are submitted maintains in them the basic physical strength and power of Africans in Africa. To suffer and to strain one's body are part of the African culture and tradition. All initiation rites and rituals are based on very strict and strenuous tests of strength and endurance for all boys in their teenage. This is still true in some areas and Nelson Mandela tells us about his own rituals that were associated to his circumcision. In African culture there is a basic principle that an African man or an African woman have to be physically strong and both physically and mentally demonstrate a high level of endurance. The duress under which they were exploited in fact had a positive result: they kept their physical dimension.

But the description Solomon Northup gives of one Christmas "festival" shows that three other things were kept from their African heritage. They were expected for these Christmas festivals to produce music, to dance and to sing. This enabled them to retain their unique polyrhythmic music that has become universal today thanks to this retention. They retained their African singing that is both chanting and singing, both monophonic and yet polyphonic, what I would call monophonic with polyphonic variations. They retained their dancing and it is clear that their bodies do not dance one tempo but several: swinging and swaying for the upper part of the body or the head, and then different tempos for the arms and the feet, the feet being able to capture extremely fast tempos. All that is in Solomon Northup's testimony. This dancing is pure communion for the slaves, communion among themselves and communion with their heritage, their past, their African roots. Strangely enough it is this triad of music-singing-dancing that also saved the American Indians who were able to keep their traditions and their soul by cultivating these there forms of culture in their powwows. Strangely enough the Americans tried to ban it for the Indians though for the blacks, the slaves, they encouraged it as an entertainment for themselves of course. They will even imitate it with the black minstrels.

Solomon Northup gives one example of one of these song-cum-music-cum-singing: "A Refrain of the Red River Plantation." The text contains the full song, though the appendices only give the music of the first stanza and chorus. When you look at the next stanzas of the song, you find out that their rhythm and their tempo are different, and the words themselves are no longer a nicely rhymed regular five line stanza and two line chorus, but a song which implies a music and a dancing based on repetitions like

"Hog eye!
Old Hog Eye.
And Hosey too!" (page 129)


"Hop Jim along,
Walk jim along,
Talk Jim along, &c." (page 130)

This chorus implies many patterns, forms of singing, dancing that could be very multifarious both as for polyphonic singing that could be understood as the root of Gospel singing or as for the polyrhythmic music and dancing that could be developed from such a song and there we have the root of polyrhythmic blues and jazz and later many other forms. We could also understand that this singing might be very close to chanting or even speaking and it would be the root of what we call today rap which was also common in jazz in the 1920s or 30s. Curious minds will find 3,700 such "traditional and folk songs" at, the one given by Solomon Northup in 1853 being listed among the others. I say here this testimony explains how the Blacks were able to survive slavery by keeping and developing some African tradition coming directly from their cultural heritage.


This book has just been adapted into a film. In fact it is the second time.

The first time was in 1984 under the title "Twelve Years a Slave Solomon Northup's Odyssey." The more recent adaptation kept the title of the book and is based or connected to this present edition of the book.

This brings a question that is more and more asked among people: is that interest for the past of African Americans in the recent period the sign of a deep change in the cultural and mental approach of the Blacks and slavery in the United States, or is it only a fad reflecting the fact that the President of the United States has been black for five years and will be for three more years? I do not have an answer to that question and I lean towards a twofold approach: the fact that the President of the United States is a black man has some influence on the United States as a whole and every American in particular, and on the other hand Americans have always cultivated their historical dimension probably because they are all of them, except American Indians, uprooted immigrants who were transplanted into a new continent, by force or by choice. All Americans have thus to face this important period in their past: slavery that started for the English colonists in 1619 and ended for the Americans in 1865, though it continued in some form of apartheid or other till the end of the 20th century if not till today.

1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Compelling, yet leaves unanswered questions. 19 avril 2014
Par Rowdy Yates - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
The narrative itself is a compelling story of the worst evils of slavery. It's all here ... the physical and emotional degradation of those enslaved and the moral degradation of the owners. The beatings, separation of slave families, and lives of arduous work with virtually no relief either physical or emotional is amply shown in all its' horror. But the after story of Solomon Northrup leaves more questions than answers. It's hard to picture the man portrayed in the book as the real man traced afterward with alcohol issues and three arrests for assault ... all before the kidnapping. And the slight possibility the kidnapping itself was part of a scam that didn't work as planned leads to more unanswered questions. Nonetheless, if anyone needed any more validation of the consummate evils of American slavery this book will give it.
1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An important work, for so many reasons 3 mars 2014
Par Lawrence H. Head, Jr. - Publié sur
Format:Broché|Achat vérifié
Northup, having been a free born resident of the North, was a stranger to his new circumstances and therefore saw things with "fresh eyes." That is, more things were remarkable than might have been otherwise. I believe his native powers of observation were acute. And, having been educated, he was capable of apt description. These factors combine to create a fascinating, compelling story, and about more than slavery: Northup gives us agricultural practices, the open-range cattle industry, the band of Choctaws in the piney woods, and so very much more. But, any historical work benefits from notes such as Dr. Eakin's. Otherwise, more questions are asked than answered. I had the opportunity of buying other editions, but held out for hers and I was rewarded beyond measure.
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