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Actor Brad Pitt to Produce Biopic on the Life of Saratoga’s Solomon Northup

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Twelve Years a Slave to be released in August 2013

Brad Pitt Helps Bring Solomon Northup’s Story to the Screen

Solomon NorthupBrad Pitt and his production company, Plan B, will produce Twelve Years a Slave, an upcoming movie about Solomon Northup, a free black man forced into slavery who lived in Spa City in the mid-1800s. Set to be released August 2013, the big screen movie is based on Northup’s autobiography written in 1853.

A talented violinist, Northup was working in one of area’s most prominent hotels at the time when two men, claiming to be circus promoters lured him with a job offer; they convinced him to travel south to Washington D.C. Northup left his wife and though he was an educated man, he was abducted and sold into slavery. He would work on a Louisiana plantation for 12 years.

Portraying Northup is Chiwetel Ejiofor, the British actor who appeared in the movies Salt and Inside Man. Steve McQueen, who co-wrote and directed the acclaimed 2008 drama Hunger is directing the film, which began production this past June in Louisiana. Pitt will play Henry B. Northup, an attorney who gained Solomon’s freedom.

Each July “Solomon Northup Day” activities are held at the Visitor Center at Saratoga Springs thanks to Johnnie Roberts, the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center program coordinator.

“It’s very important that the story be told,” Roberts told The Saratogian. “What’s uncommon is that the person to whom it happened was able to win his freedom and document his experience. It shed light on the issue.”

Northup’s eventual road back to freedom began when Samuel Bass, a Canadian carpenter, came to the Louisiana farm. A former canal worker who had traveled to Canada, Northup recognized Bass’ accent and trusted him enough to explain how he had been kidnapped.

“I gave him the names of William Perry, Cephas Parker and Judge Marvin, all of Saratoga Springs,” Northup wrote in his autobiography. “I had been employed by the latter in the United States Hotel.”

Bass headed back north and found one of the men Northup described who had employed him while he had lived upstate. His misfortune was relayed to Henry B. Northup, the son of a white judge, for whom Solomon’s father once worked. According to Roberts, “it was common for black servants to take the name of their employer.”

Henry B. Northup documented Solomon’s status as a free man. He traveled to Louisiana and gained Solomon’s freedom back. Northup eventually reconnected with his wife and children, and according to the 1860 census, resided in Glens Falls.

Since Northup’s autobiography was published in 1853, the book is in the public domain, available online at Docsouth (text version) or Google Books where readers can download a copy as a PDF file.

David Fiske
, author of Solomon Northup: His Life Before and After Slavery, did extensive research on Northup’s life after he regained his freedom. There is much evidence, such as letters that he wrote, pointing to his involvement in the Underground Railroad in Vermont, yet no further information on Northup appears available after 1863, therefore creating a mystery of sorts regarding the remainder of his life.

“Sadly, it appears that he became impoverished as time went on,” Fiske adds, “and the circumstances of his death are unknown.”

Diana Denner is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.


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2 Comments for “Actor Brad Pitt to Produce Biopic on the Life of Saratoga’s Solomon Northup”

  1. Thanks for mentioning my book!
    I also have a Northup web site:

  2. You’re welcome! We placed a link to your site in the article as well.

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