Descendants of Solomon Northup encounter a record of his enslavement at the National Archives:
Solomon Northup was a free man when he was abducted and sold into slavery in 1841. He survived to recount his story in a memoir, 12 Years A Slave, which is now a motion picture. Yesterday, a few of his descendants viewed the document that marks the beginning of Northup’s journey into slavery—a slave manifest from the brig Orleans. Number 33 on the list of slaves bound for New Orleans is Plat Hamilton, the alias chosen for Northup by his kidnappers.
The descendants of Solomon Northup say they were aware of his story as they grew up, but seeing the actual documentation was an emotional experience. Today’s Washington Post has a story about their visit: http://t.co/b1Pz534rTS
The slave manifest is on display at the National Archives through March 30.
One of the descendants, Vera Williams, works at the National Archives. You can read her personal story (http://go.usa.gov/B68G) or learn how she and Clayton Adams walked in the footsteps of her great-great-great-grandfather Solomon Northup (http://go.usa.gov/B68z).
Photo: Northup descendants Clayton Adams and Vera Williams find his name on the slave manifest at the National Archives. (Photo by Jeff Reed)
This slave manifest for the brig Orleans, which includes Solomon Northup listed as Plat Hamilton on line 33, is now on display at the National Archives.
In 1841, Solomon Northup, a free-born African American from New York, was kidnapped by two white men and enslaved for 12 years in the deep South before he could prove his legal right to freedom. He later wrote about his ordeal in his book “12 Years A Slave” which was made into a movie.
Abducting free blacks for sale into slavery was outlawed in most of the United States. However uneven law enforcement, the marginal rights of free blacks, and mounting demand for slaves after the end of the transatlantic slave trade made kidnapping an attractive and potentially profitable prospect that encouraged the creation of a reverse underground railroad.
Kidnappers gave their victims aliases to hide their true identities. Northup recounted that he first heard the name he would be known by as a slave, “Plat Hamilton,” in New Orleans when it was called from this slave manifest (line 33) for the brig Orleans. Victims who insisted that they were free often faced severe beatings or even death. Northup accepted his identity as “Plat” because “[He] was too costly a chattel to be lost … [and] knew well enough the slightest knowledge of [his] real character would consign [him] at once to the remotest depths of Slavery.”
Vera Williams, a direct descendent of Solomon Northup works at the National Archives. You can read her personal story or learn how she walked in the footsteps of her great-great-great-grandfather.
The movie “12 Years A Slave” tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped. His journey into slavery can be found in our records.
In the slave manifest for the brig Orleans, Solomon Northup is gone, but Plat Hamilton is present.
A ban on federal slavery legislation was written into the Constitution in 1787. But an 1807 Act of Congress outlawed foreign importation of slaves. Slave manifests that documented each slave’s name, sex, age, and color were then required.
When slaves were forced into the haul of the Orleans on April 27, 1841, the Port of Richmond collector Thomas Nelson approved the slave manifest. When the ship docked in New Orleans on May 24, 1841, the inspector matched Solomon Northup’s description to the name Plat Hamilton. And Solomon Northup the free man of color ceased to exist.
Northup was transported on the Orleans with approximately forty other slaves to New Orleans where he was later sold to Edwin Epps, who owned a cotton plantation in the Louisiana Red River area. Northup was enslaved for the next twelve years. All rights and privileges that come with freedom, beginning with his given name, were stripped away from him.
To see more documents related to the life of Solomon Northup, go to the National Archives Education blog: http://go.usa.gov/WBjw
Image: Slave Manifest for the Brig Orleans, including Solomon Northup, listed as Plat Hamilton (#33)