Solomon Northup was born a free person of color in New York in 1808. This was the year the 1807 Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves, which banned the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the United States, took effect. A somewhat ironic fact, considering what happened next.
In 1841, Northup was lured to Washington, D.C, with the promise of a job with a circus. There he was kidnapped, put on a boat to New Orleans, and sold into slavery. Northup was liberated in 1853, and 12 Years a Slave, the book he wrote about his experiences, became both a popular seller at the time and an important historical document.
While the 1807 act prohibited importing slaves into the United States as of 1 January 1808, slaves could still be bought and sold—and transported—within the country. The same law that banned the foreign slave trade also regulated the internal transportation of slaves, requiring masters of vessels carrying slaves in coastal waters to provide a manifest detailing their slave cargo when leaving (“outward”) or entering (“inward”) a port.
Most of the characters Northup mentions from the Orleans are included on this page of the brig’s manifest from April 1841.
Northup also says he was assigned the name Platt. He appears on the manifest as #33 Plat Hamilton.
Northup also likely appears on the 1850 U.S. census slave schedules. Though he is not listed by name: he is only a number, age, gender, and color. He is most likely the first slave listed under Edwin Epps, who owned Northup at the time of the census and records 1 black male 40 years of age.
By time New York took its 1855 state census, Solomon was a free man again, living in Queensbury, Warren, New York, with his wife, Ann, and son Alonzo. From there, his history gets hazy, but his story has found new life in the Academy Award winning film based on his book: 12 Years a Slave.
You’ll find find Solomon Northup’s 12 Years a Slave and other records documenting his history on Ancestry.