12 Years a Slave has proved to be a real success during this year’s Oscars edition, thanks to the fact that it gained three statuettes, but the read story regarding the death of author Solomon Northup sparks controversy. The book which transformed into an awarded movie that enjoyed critics’ appraisal tells the story of Northup and his life, but fails to offer details regarding the death of the man who spent 12 years as a slave. A book published last year by author Rachel Seligman under the name of Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave reveals not only the life of the 19th-century free-born African-American, but also the yet unclear reasons for which Northup’s burial remains unknown after 160 years.
12 Years a Slave tells all about Solomon Northup’s life, except for his death, which determined historians to seek more information regarding the real story that sparks controversy, even after almost two centuries. The life, struggles and overall story of Northup are depicted in both movie and book, but nothing is known about his burial or reason of death. Try as they might, experts could not find out the circumstances in which 12 Years a Slave’s author died, which is why plenty of scenarios hover around his death.
That’s sort of big blank spot in the history, for sure,” Seligman said.
At the same time, David Fiske, co-author of the book about Northup published in 2013 along with Clifford Brown, Union College professor stated that not even the descendents of 12 Years a Slave’s author could offer details with regard to his death.
The Life of Solomon Northup
The movie mirrors the life of Solomon Northup, his family and his life as a married man. History shows that Northup moved to Saratoga Springs when his wife, Anne received a job in a hotel’s spa and he found work as a musician. However, in 1841, two white men convinced him to go to Washington, D.C. for a job proposal and so, the author of 12 Years a Slave was kidnapped and taken to New Orleans. He was then sold into slavery and spent the next dozen years working on a Louisiana cotton plantation.
His friends rescued him. and in 1853 he wrote his memoirs and got involved in the Underground Railroad, which allowed him to help escaped slaves find their freedom in the Northeast and Canada.
The Missing Piece
However, the moment when historians lose sight of Solomon Northup is around 1863, when the author of 12 Years a Slave disappeared and was never seen again. Northup’s disappearance happened around the time when his two kidnappers were released from prison. Due to jurisdictional issues, the white men who were arrested immediately after the book was published were freed, a moment which coincides with the author’s vanishing.
The awarded movie also stated that the “date, location and circumstances” of Northup’s death are still unknown, which sparks even more controversy around the real story of what happened after the book 12 Years a Slave was released.
Fiske believes that Northup could have died somewhere where his identity was not known, or maybe the author was kidnapped again and killed by the men who were just released from prison. Either way, historians, although puzzled by his sudden disappearance, continue to seek clues that could point out to the location of his death or at least the circumstances. The real story behind 12 Years a Slave has just began to spark controversy, which could mean that the final chapter of Northup’s biography is yet to be written.
By Gabriela Motroc