Louisiana History Research Proposal

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¶ … Slave:

Solomon Northup And Slavery

From an historical perspective, Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave, first published in Auburn, New York in 1853 and dedicated to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the highly-popular Uncle Tom's Cabin, is much like other Negro narratives of the mid-1800's, for it conveys the often terrible and destructive experiences of Northup as a kidnapped African-American from New York who ended up in the bondage of slavery in Louisiana for a period of twelve long, grueling years.

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As Northup relates in the opening lines of Chapter One, "Having been born a freeman and for more than thirty years enjoyed the blessings of liberty. . . And having. . .been kidnapped and sold into slavery. . . It has been suggested that an account of my life and fortunes would not be uninteresting to the public" (17). Indeed, Northup's account of his time as a slave in the Deep South when slavery was an integral part of the Southern economy and its way of life, did appeal not only to the general American public but also to readers in England, many of whom were unfamiliar with the horrors of slavery in the former American colonies. Overall, Northup's account is rich in narrative concerning the relationships between master and slave, overseers and among the slaves themselves. It also depicts very graphically the physical violence and coercion heaped upon the slaves by their masters and overseers; however, Northup also discusses how it was his fortune to be owned by several masters during his captivity, some of whom were "men of humanity" (xv, Editor's Preface) who treated him fairly and with respect as a human being.

TOPIC: Research Proposal on Louisiana History Assignment

In Chapter One, Northup describes his frequent encounters with slaves while living at the United States Hotel in Saratoga Springs. "Many times," he says, "they entered into conversation with me on the subject of slavery" and more often than not, "I found they cherished a secret desire for liberty" and possessed "the most ardent anxiety to escape" (25). However, "the fear of punishment" prevented many of them from attempting to escape, usually to the North via the Underground Railroad, which proved "sufficient to deter them from the experiment" (26). Clearly, as a freeman, Northup had a very hard time comprehending what it was like living as a slave, but unfortunately, he was soon to find out. As he puts it, just prior to being kidnapped, he realized that he was approaching "the shadow of the cloud. . .the thick darkness whereof I was soon to disappear. . . And shut out from the sweet light of liberty. . . " (27). Thus, although not so well-versed in the horrors of slavery, Northup possessed enough intelligence to see that forced bondage was a form of darkness which envelops the slave, much like what W.E.B. Du Bois once described as living "darkly as through a veil" (6), immersed in poverty, ignorance and barbarism.

In Chapter Three, Northup describes in great detail one of his first encounters with a slave trader and owner named James H. Burch while being held in the city of Washington in a dark underground apartment that served as a prison, filled with damp and moldy odors. Burch was "a large and powerful man" with an expression of "nothing but cruelty and cunning" (40-41) and with the assistance of another man named Radburn, Northup was stripped naked and beaten severely with a paddle, shaped like an oar with holes drilled into it. In the words of Northup, "Drawing me over a bench, face downward, Radburn placed his heavy foot upon the fetters

(chains). . .and with the paddle, Burch commenced beating me. Blow after blow was inflicted upon my naked body. . . (44). One of these men also held a cat o-nine tails, a type of whip often with metal spurs on the end of each piece of leather which when used… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Louisiana History.  (2009, June 18).  Retrieved September 26, 2021, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/louisiana-history/22611

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"Louisiana History."  18 June 2009.  Web.  26 September 2021. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/louisiana-history/22611>.

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"Louisiana History."  Essaytown.com.  June 18, 2009.  Accessed September 26, 2021.