Born: July 10, 1977
Forest Gate, London, England, UK
Born: July 10, 1807
Birthplace: Minerva, Essex County, New York, USA
Death: Unknown (between 1857 and 1875)
As pictured in his 1853 memoir 'Twelve Years a Slave'
Like in the movie, the real Solomon Northup was tricked and sold into slavery in 1841 and did not regain his freedom until January 3, 1853.
No, the flash-forward scene that unfolds early in the 12 Years a Slave movie is entirely fictitious and was created by director Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley. "I just wanted a bit of tenderness—the idea of this woman reaching out for sexual healing in a way, to quote Marvin Gaye. She takes control of her own body. Then after she's climaxed, she's back where she was. She's back in hell, and that's when she turns and cries."
Yes. During our investigation into the 12 Years a Slave true story, we learned that Solomon began playing the violin during the leisure hours of his youth, after he finished his main duty of helping his father on the farm. In his memoir, he calls the violin "the ruling passion of my youth," going on to say, "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."
Yes. Solomon met the two men in the village of Saratoga Springs, New York. The men had heard that Solomon was an "expert player of the violin". They identified themselves using fake names and told him that they were part of a circus company that was looking for someone with his precise musical talent. The two men, later identified as Joseph Russell and Alexander Merrill, asked Solomon to accompany them on a short journey to New York City and to participate with them in performances along the way. They only delivered one performance to a sparse crowd, and it consisted of Russell and Merrill performing somewhat elementary feats like tossing balls, frying pancakes in a hat, ventriloquism and causing invisible pigs to squeal.
Once in New York City, Russell and Merrill encouraged Solomon to go to Washington, D.C. with them, reasoning that the circus would pay him high wages, and since it was the summer season, the troupe would be traveling back north anyway.
As he indicated in his autobiography, the real Solomon Northup is not positive that he was in fact drugged, however, he remembers various clues that led him to that conclusion. He had spent the day with Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell making stops at a number of saloons in Washington, D.C. They were observing the festivities that were part of the great funeral procession of General Harrison. At the saloons, the two men would serve themselves, and they would then pour a glass and hand it to Solomon. As he states in his memoir, he did not become intoxicated.
By late afternoon, he fell ill with a severe headache and nausea. His sickness progressed until he was insensible by evening. He was unable to sleep and was stricken with severe thirst. He recalls several people entering the room where he had been staying. They told him that he needed to come with them to see a physician. Shortly after leaving his room and heading into the streets, his memory escapes him and the next thing he remembers is waking up handcuffed and chained to the floor of the Williams Slave Pen in Washington, D.C.
No. The real Solomon Northup did come up with a plan to take over the brig Orleans along with two other slaves, Arthur and Robert. However, unlike what happens in the film, Robert did not die after being stabbed when he came to the defense of Eliza, who in the movie is on the verge of being raped by a sailor. Instead, Robert died from smallpox and the plan to take over the ship was scrapped.
Yes. Evidence discovered while researching the true story behind 12 Years a Slave confirmed that Solomon Northup's name was in fact changed to Platt Hamilton. An official record of the name appears on the April 1841 manifest of the brig Orleans, the ship that carried Northup southward from the Port of Richmond, Virginia to the Port of New Orleans, Louisiana. The portion of the ship's manifest that displays the name "Platt Hamilton" is pictured below. -Ancestry.com
Yes. Like in the movie, the scuffle over the nails resulted in a carpenter named John M. Tibeats trying to whip Northup, but Northup fended off the attack, grabbed the whip, and began to strike his attacker. Afterward, Tibeats fetched two overseers that he knew on neighboring plantations. The men bound Northup and put a noose around his neck. They led him out to a tree where they were going to hang him, but were stopped and chased off by Mr. Chapin, a just overseer who worked for William Ford. When Ford returned from a trip later that day, he personally cut the cord from Northup's wrists, arms, and ankles, and he slipped the noose from Northup's neck.
Not depicted in the movie, the 12 Years a Slave true story brings to light a second scuffle that Northup got into with Tibeats while Ford and Chapin were away, resulting in Tibeats chasing Northup with an axe. Fearing impending retaliation from Tibeats, that time he ran away. However, Northup returned to the plantation after being unable to survive on his own in the harshness of the surrounding swamps. Even though he was forgiven by Ford, the plantation owner decided to sell Northup in part to prevent any more feuds with Tibeats. To Northup's misfortune, he ended up being bought by a much crueler master, Edwin Epps.
Yes. In fact, the real Edwin Epps was crueler than actor Michael Fassbender portrays him to be in the movie. In addition to Edwin Epps being overcome by "dancing moods", where he would force the exhausted slaves to dance, in real life, Epps also had his "whipping moods". Epps usually found himself in a "whipping mood" when he was drunk. He would drive the slaves around the yard and whip them for fun.
Yes, but the movie puts more focus on Edwin Epps's alternating passion for and disgust with Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) than Northup's memoir. In his book, the real Solomon Northup refers to Epps's "lewd intentions" toward Patsey, especially when he was intoxicated.
Yes. Despite Patsey having a remarkable gift for picking cotton quickly, she was one of the most severely beaten slaves. This was mainly due to Mistress Epps encouraging her husband Edwin to whip Patsey because, as Northup writes, Patsey had become the "slave of a licentious master and a jealous mistress." Northup goes on to describe her as the "enslaved victim of lust and hate", with nothing delighting Mistress Epps more than seeing Patsey suffer. Northup states that it was not uncommon for Mistress Epps to hurl a broken bottle or billet of wood at Patsey's face.
As portrayed in the 12 Years a Slave movie, in his book Northup describes one of the whippings that Patsey received as being "the most cruel whipping that ever I was doomed to witness—one I can never recall with any other emotion than that of horror". It was during this whipping that Epps forced Northup to deliver the lashings. After Northup pleaded and reluctantly whipped Patsey more than forty times, he threw down the whip and refused to go any further. It was then that Epps picked up the whip and applied it with "ten-fold" greater force than Northup had.
No. This pivotal, emotionally-charged scene is perhaps the movie's biggest blunder with regard to the true story. It was most likely unintentional and is the result of the filmmakers misreading a line in Northup's autobiography. In the book, Northup is discussing the suffering of Patsey, who was lusted for by her master and hated by his jealous wife.
Yes. In his memoir, Northup describes Armsby as a man who came to the plantation looking to fill the position of overseer but was reduced to labor with the slaves. In an effort to better his role on the plantation, he divulged Northup's secret to Edwin Epps. When Epps confronted Northup, he denied ever writing the letter and Epps believed him.
Although it is not shown in the movie, this was not the first time that Solomon Northup tried to have someone help him send a letter home. When he was on the ship that brought him south, a sailor helped him mail a letter he'd written. That letter actually made it home to New York and was obtained by attorney Henry B. Northup, a relative of Solomon's father's former master. Since Solomon was not yet aware of his final destination, he could not provide a location in the letter. Officials in New York told Henry that no action would be taken until they knew where to look for Solomon.
Yes. Samuel Bass's portrayal in the 12 Years a Slave movie is very accurate to how Northup describes him in the book, including his argument with Edwin Epps. Much of what Bass (Brad Pitt) says during that scene is taken almost verbatim from the book, "...but begging the law's pardon, it lies. ... There's a sin, a fearful sin, resting on this nation, that will not go unpunished forever. There will be a reckoning yet—yes, Epps, there's a day coming that will burn as an oven. It may be sooner or it may be later, but it's a coming as sure as the Lord is just."
Yes. Like in the movie, Samuel Bass, who also appears in Northup's autobiography, was influential in Northup's release. As the movie indicates, Samuel Bass was a Canadian who was in Louisiana doing carpentry work for Northup's owner, Edwin Epps. Northup began assisting Bass and eventually decided to confide in him after he learned that Bass was against slavery. After Solomon shared his story of being tricked and kidnapped into slavery, Samuel Bass became determined to help him, even vowing to travel to New York himself. Bass wrote letters on Solomon's behalf to various individuals back in New York. The first of these letters ended up being the one that set in motion the events that led to Solomon's release from slavery in early 1853. -Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave
Our exploration into the true story behind 12 Years a Slave brought to light the fact that Solomon's father Mintus Northup was a former slave who had been emancipated in approximately 1798. His mother had never been a slave. She was a mulatto and was three quarters white (her name is never mentioned in the book). Solomon was therefore born a free man in 1807, at a time when slavery still existed in New York. Solomon's father had been a slave to Capt. Henry Northup, a Loyalist who freed Mintus around 1798 as part of a provision in his will. Mintus took his master's surname.
The last known details about Solomon Northup's life are mostly speculative and no one is certain of his exact fate. It is believed that he might have been involved with the Underground Railroad up until the start of the American Civil War. There are also reports of angry mobs disrupting speeches that he gave at abolitionist rallies. This includes speeches that he was giving in Canada in the summer of 1857. Some believe that this could have led to him being murdered, while others have conjectured that it's possible he was kidnapped again, or that his two former kidnappers who had been on trial went looking for Northup and killed him. Certain members of his family have passed down the story that he had been killed in Mississippi in 1864, but there is no evidence to support that claim. An 1875 New York State Census lists his wife Anne's marital status as "Widowed". No grave of Solomon Northup has ever been found. -Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave
Though the idea might seem far-fetched, there has always been some conjecture that Solomon Northup was a willing accomplice to his kidnappers, Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell. The theory was that Northup planned to split with Merrill and Russell the profits from being sold into slavery after he would either escape or have Merrill and Russell subsequently arrange for him to be freed. In a response to reader inquiries, a newspaper column that appeared in The Saratoga Press at the time goes as far as to raise the possibility that the case against Merrill and Russell was thrown out for such reasons.
"We would answer by saying that since the indictment was found, the District Attorney was placed in possession of facts that whilst proving their guilt in a measure, would prevent a conviction. To speak more plainly, it is more than suspected that Sol Northup was an accomplice in the sale, calculating to slip away and share the spoils, but that the purchaser was too sharp for him, and instead of getting the cash, he got something else."
According to the testimony of John S. Enos, Alexander Merrill had attempted this scenario earlier in his kidnapping career. Yet, with regard to Northup, no evidence was ever found to prove that he was involved in his own kidnapping and the events chronicled in his book Twelve Years a Slave have been widely accepted as being none other than the true story. -Twelve Years a Slave - Dr. Sue Eakin Edition
Watch two featurettes that include interviews with the actors and director Steve McQueen. View the 12 Years a Slave movie trailer.
WATCH12 Years A Slave Featurette - Chiwetel Ejiofor Becomes Solomon Northup
This featurette, released just prior to
the movie, features interviews by the
director and actors as they reflect on
Solomon Northup's autobiography and actor
Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance. The film's
main stars are featured, including
Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender,
Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson and Alfre
WATCH12 Years a Slave Featurette - A Portrait of Solomon Northup
In this featurette released in conjunction
with the movie, director Steve McQueen
explains what drew him to the story.
McQueen and actor Chiwetel Ejiofor share
their thoughts on the real Solomon
Northup, the history, the film and the
character. The producers also weigh in.
WATCH12 Years Slave Trailer
12 Years a Slave is based on the
autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free
black man who was kidnapped in the North
and sold into slavery. He worked on
plantations in the state of Louisiana,
where he remained for 12 years until he
was released. Chiwetel Ejiofor portrays
Solomon Northup and Brad Pitt is a
Canadian carpenter who befriends Northup.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael
Fassbender both portray slave owners. The
movie is based on Solomon Northup's
autobiography Twelve Years a
Slave published in 1853.