In 1841, criminals seduced a free black New Yorker named Solomon Northup into slave territory by the promise of a job. There, they illegally sold him as a slave. When he protested to the slave dealer that he was free, the dealer beat him. He would learn no to assert his freedom, but over the next twelve years he attempted to free himself on several occasions, all of which failed until the last, successful effort.
On Northup's journey to Louisiana, he met Arthur and Robert who were also going to be sold as slaves. The three devised a plot whereas they would overtake the boat, kill if necessary, the captain and crew and guide the vessel back to New York. They “resolved to regain our liberty or lose our lives.” (46) This plot never came to fruition, as Robert became ill and died of smallpox. The three men had previously determined that the other slaves were not to be trusted, and they had to carry this out themselves. With Robert now deceased, there was no other choice but to forgo their attempt.
Northup was purchased at the slave market to a planter named Ford. However, because of Ford's financial difficulties, he sold Northup to cover his debt. Northup was working with his new owner, who was very harsh. An argument ensued over the way Northup was planing. Tibeats began throwing axes and hatchets at Northup. Northup responded in a physical manner. It appeared as though, to save his own life, Northup would have to take Tibeats's, which would mean certain hanging for Northup. If a slave took his owner's life it was a capital offense. Instead he “leaped a fence near by, and hurried across the plantation,” thus making his first escape attempt (102). He was chased through the bayou and swamp by both men and dogs. Eventually, he made his way back to his first owner, Ford. Ford acted as mediator and informed Tibeats that because he hated Northup so, he would continue to attempt to take his life, and that Northup would continue to run away. Ford told Tibeats “you must sell him or hire him out, at least.” (111)
Tibeats eventually sold Northup to another harsh slave-owner. it was sometimes profitable for slave-owners to hire their slaves to others for employment. A planter named Tanner hired Northup to work on his sugar plantation in St. Mary's parish. Wages were quite high in that region. It is approximately a one hundred twenty mile journey from Bayou Boeuf.
Rio Teche is a river that runs through St. Mary's Parish and into the Gulf of Mexico. Many vessels sail the river. The captain of one of the vessels “was a native of the North,” so Northup begged permission to hide in the freight (150). The captain seemed eager to aid Northup, however customs officials were diligently checking the boats for contraband. The captain felt it was far too dangerous a proposition to hide Northup. Had he been caught, the captain could lose his boat. Northup again felt the sting of his captivity as the taste of...