Twelve Years a Slave is a memoir and slave narrative by Solomon Northup as told to and edited by David Wilson. Northup, a black man who was born free in New York, details his kidnapping in Washington, D.C., and subsequent sale into slavery. After having been kept in bondage for 12 years in Louisiana by various masters, Northup was able to write to friends and family in New York, who were able to secure his release. Northup’s account provides extensive details on the slave markets in Washington, D.C. and New Orleans, as well as describing at length cotton and sugar cultivation on major plantations in Louisiana.
Derby & Miller of Auburn, New York, published the work soon after Harriet Beecher Stowe’s best-selling novel about slavery, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), to which it lent factual support. Northup’s book, dedicated to Stowe, sold 30,000 copies, making it a bestseller in its own right.
After being published in several editions in the 19th century, the book fell into obscurity for nearly 100 years, until it was re-discovered on separate occasions by two Louisiana historians, Sue Eakin (Louisiana State University at Alexandria) and Joseph Logsdon (University of New Orleans). In the early 1960s, they researched and retraced Solomon Northup’s journey and co-edited a historically annotated version that was published by LSU Press in 1968.
The memoir has been adapted and produced as the 1984 PBS television movie Solomon Northup’s Odyssey and the 2013 Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave.