Avoyelles Parish Courthouse, Marksville


Before the Civil War, states across the north began passing personal liberty laws to protect their free black citizens from kidnappers. New York was one of those states. Under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 a white agent had to personally appear in court with other sworn testimony to prove an accused person's free status. Lawyer Henry B. Northup, whose family had owned and later freed Northup's father, was approached by Northup's wife, Anne, with the letter Bass mailed to store owners Cephas Parker and William Perry. Because of the 1840 anti-kidnapping law, the state of New York provided the authority and funds to appoint Northup as the agent in the case of Solomon Northup. He was given a document signed by the governor certifying Solomon's free status as a citizen of the state of New York. Once in Marksville, Henry B. Northup employed John P. Waddill to secure Solomon Northup's freedom. Judge Ralph Cushman issued the order granting Northup's freedom. The documents concerning the legal proceedings freeing Northup are still filed at the Avoyelles Parish Courthouse in Marksville.

Marksville itself was founded by an Italian named Marco Litche who became known in the French district as Mark Eliche. He donated the land that is still the courthouse square today sometime before 1815. The first record of a physical courthouse was a simple two room building in 1823 standing in the current courthouse square at the location of the law office of Rodney Rabalais. In 1856 a larger courthouse was built by Masters Couvillion and C.D. Stewart and an addition was built in 1894. The present day courthouse was built in 1927 by Architect Herman Duncan and Contractor Caldwell Brothers. A few blocks down from the courthouse, the street Waddill was named for the lawyer that represented Northup and later died in a yellow fever epidemic.

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Old Marksville Courthouse

The old Marksville Courthouse was built in 1845 by Masters Couvillon and C.D. Stewart. An addition was built in 1894. Image courtesy Carlos Mayeux.

Written Oath from New York Governor

The governor of New York, Washington Hunt, wrote this letter for Henry B. Northup to carry with him to the officials in Avoyelles Parish in order to secure Northup's freedom. Image courtesy of Sue Eakin Papers, Central Louisiana Collections, James C. Bolton Library, LSUA.

Henry B. Northup, Esquire

Northup was a District Attorney, Judge, Congressman and leader within the New York Whig party. His law office stands on Center Street, Hudson Falls, New York. Northup was an abolitionist and introduced Solomon to a fellow abolitionist who became Northup's ghost writer, David Wilson. There was speculation that Mintus, Solomon Northup's father, may have been the child of a white Northup but it cannot be proven. However, there was a strong relationship between the black and white Northup families. Image courtesy of Sue Eakin Papers, Central Louisiana Collections, James C. Bolton Library, LSUA.

John P. Waddill

Waddill was a prominent attorney in Avoyelles Parish. Advertisements for his services appear the in the first newspaper of the parish, The Expositor, Dec. 14, 1842. Today a street only blocks from the courthouse square is named for him. Image courtesy of Liz Brazelton.

John P. Waddill Diary

This diary is in the possession of Liz Brazelton of Alexandria, LA, a descendant of John P. Waddill. The entry shown reads as follows:
Marskville LA January 1853
Jany 1st Today I was employed by Henry B. Northup Esq. of Sandy Hill, Washington County, state of New York, to bring suit against Edwin Epps to reclaim from slavery a negro named Solomon Northup who had been kidnapped in the city of Washington in 1841.
Jany 4 To day the slave Solomon was released. I received fifty dollars for my services.

Cite this Page

Meredith Melancon, “Avoyelles Parish Courthouse, Marksville,” Acadiana Historical, accessed April 25, 2015, http:/​/​acadianahistorical.​org/​items/​show/​65.​
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