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April 12, 2014

GENEALOGY: Slave narratives valuable to society, family researchers

BLOOMINGTON — Slave narratives are valuable to society as a whole and also to family researchers. Besides relating the personal story of the writer, these accounts also illuminate for all of us the harsh realities that existed, and reveal a culture that our ancestors may have participated in. The book and movie “12 Years a Slave” is the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man of New York, who is kidnapped, taken south, and sold as a slave. After reading the book, I thought it would be interesting to see what information could be found in the records about Northup and his family.

The writer states that his father was Mintus Northup, a freed slave. The 1820 census of Fort Edward, Washington County, N.Y., lists Mintus as a free colored person. He has two younger males in the household — one under 14 (this would be Solomon, who was born in 1808) and one 14-25 (this would be Solomon’s older brother Joseph). It’s interesting to note that the age categories for “free colored persons” as compared to “white persons” are different on this census. Northup writes that he married Anne Hampton. Also on the 1820 census is William Hampton, living in Kingsbury, Washington County, N.Y., with a girl in the household the right age category. I suspect that he is the father of Anne.

By 1830, Solomon and Anne had married. The census of Kingsbury, Washington County, N.Y., shows their household included a girl under 10. This would be their daughter Elizabeth. Also living in Fort Edward, Washington County, N.Y., was Hannah Hampton, aged 55-99. I assume this is the widowed mother of Anne, since there was no William Hampton on this census.

In 1840 Solomon’s family was living in Saratoga, Saratoga County, N.Y. He had two girls and a boy in the household. These were his children Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Solomon was working in manufacturing and trade. Also in Saratoga County was Harry Hampton, the head of a household that included a woman aged 55-99. Again, I’m conjecturing that Harry was Anne’s brother and that the woman living with him was Hannah, their mother.

In 1841 Northup was kidnapped and sold as a slave. He was re-named “Platt” by the slave traders. In the book, he states he was taken to New Orleans on a boat called the Orleans. And indeed, the April 1841 manifest for that vessel shows an enslaved male named “Plat Hamilton” aboard, traveling from Richmond, Va., to New Orleans.

Platt was first sold to William Ford, who treated him with relative decency, then to John Tibeats, who twice tried to kill him, and finally to Edwin Epps, a brutal and cruel slave master. He was owned by Epps for about 10 of the 12 years he was a slave. Epps can be found on the 1850 census in Avoyelles Parish, La. His slave schedule lists a 40-year-old male slave; this would be “Platt,” who actually was about 42. 1850 is the only census that Northup would have appeared as a slave. In 1853, he was rescued after a sympathetic abolitionist Canadian met him while working on Epps’ plantation and sent a letter to his white friends and supporters back in New York.

The 1855 state census of New York shows Solomon Northup reunited with his family, living in Queensbury, Warren County, occupation carpenter. But after that the trail goes cold. His actual year of death is not known. Some say it was as early as 1857 and others say 1863-4. At any rate, he was not found on the 1860 census. His wife Anne and their unmarried daughter Elizabeth are listed as living in Queensbury, Warren County, N.Y., with Harry Hampton (Anne’s brother). Nearby is Philip Stanton and wife Margaret (Northup). The Stantons have a son named Solomon, after his grandfather. I couldn’t find the son Alonzo in 1860, but he turns up on later censuses as married, living in Weedsport, Cayuga County, N.Y., and having a large family. During the Civil War, Alonzo Northup served in the Colored Troops of the Union Army.

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