THE SOLOMON NORTHUP TRAIL

By Meredith Melancon

A victim of kidnapping, Solomon Northup spent twelve years in Rapides and Avoyelles Parishes, Louisiana enslaved on plantations. His abductors lured him from his home in Glen Falls, New York with the promise of work playing his violin in a traveling circus. They then drugged him and sold him at a Washington, D.C. slave auction to traders in New Orleans who sold him to a plantation owner in central Louisiana. While building a house for his third master, Edwin Epps, Northup met Samuel Bass, a Canadian carpenter. Bass mailed a letter for Northup that alerted his friends and family of his whereabouts. Unlike most of the thousands of other free blacks that suffered the fate of kidnapping, Northup regained his freedom in a Marksville courthouse using the 1840 New York anti-kidnapping law, one of a larger group of statutes known as personal liberty laws. Once back in New York, Northup worked with ghost writer David Wilson to publish his story, and Twelve Years a Slave, 1841-1853 became a widely read slave narrative found in newspapers' best seller's lists. In time, Northup faded into obscurity, but in 1968 Dr. Sue Eakin and Dr. Joseph Logsdon resurrected the narrative adding footnotes documenting Northup's life in the northernmost corner of Acadiana. Following the edited version, Eakin published The Solomon Northup Trail through Central Louisiana guide in 1985. This trail included sites remembered by Northup in his narrative and substantiated by Eakin's research. Of the numerous people and places mentioned by Northup, Acadiana Historical highlights those places at which he labored for a significant amount of time or figured otherwise prominently in his published account. Because the people of south Rapides Parish were so intertwined with those of northern Avoyelles, sites outside of Acadiana are included. Northup named and described many of the enslaved he lived among as did conveyance records in the Avoyelles Courthouse, however, tracing the trail, little evidence of their arduous and impressive existence along the bayous is found. With new research and Acadiana Historical, Solomon Northup and his fellow slaves are remembered.

Locations for Tour

2. Wallfield, William Ford plantation and house, Forest Hill

William Prince Ford was a Tennessee native who came to the Cheneyville area with his parents as a child. He married Martha Tanner, daughter of Robert and Providence Tanner, early founders of Cheneyville. Although Martha inherited a 200 acre…

3. William Ford's Lumber Mill, Indian Creek

William Prince Ford owned a lumber mill on eighty acres of land along Indian Creek with his partner, William Ramsey. The mill was built in 1840 in "virgin timbers in the Great Pinewoods." Because of the shallow depths of the creeks running…

4. Peter Tanner's Plantation, Cheneyville

After some difficulty with his second owner, John Tibeats, Northup was hired out to Peter Tanner. Tanner was the brother-in-law of Northup's first owner, William Prince Ford, Ford's wife being Martha Tanner Ford. Northup remembered…

5. Waverly Plantation, Hawkin's Mill, Cheneyville

Solomon Northup described his ineptitude at picking cotton and how this led to Epps hiring him out to work on various sugar plantations. Epps received $1 a day for Northup's labor. "Cutting cane was an employment that suited me, and for…

6. William Ford's Plantation, Cheneyville

William Ford co-signed a loan with his brother, Franklin, in order for Franklin to finance a private boarding school for girls in Minden, LA. Franklin went into debt leaving Ford to make the payments. As a result, Ford had to sell some of his slaves,…

7. Norwood Plantation (Live Oak), Bunkie

Northup recalled Mary McCoy in his narrative as "the beauty and glory of Bayou Boeuf . . . She is beloved by all her slaves, and good reason indeed have they to be thankful that they have fallen into such gentle hands. No where on the bayou are…

8. Silas Talbert Plantation, Bunkie

Great-aunt and uncle to Mary McCoy, it was on Silas Talbert's plantation that the Christmas parties of McCoy would have occurred. "Nowhere on the bayou are there such feasts, such merrymaking, as at young Madam McCoy's. Thither, more…

9. T. Douglas Marshall Plantation, Bunkie

Solomon Northup often mentioned a neighbor of Epps, Thomas Douglas Marshall. Northup ran errands to the plantation and would play his violin at parties held on the place. He related a story about Marshall killing a Natchez man named Jewell in the…

10. Original location of Edwin Epps' house, Bunkie

On May 2, 1843 Edwin Epps purchased a slave, Platt (Northup), from John M. Tibaut for $1500. Epps was Northup's third and final slave owner for ten years, eight of which were spent at this location. Northup remembers him as having a "sharp,…

11. Pleasant Shaw's Plantation, Bunkie

Pleasant Shaw, or P.L. Shaw, was a neighbor of Epps. Northup describes him as "generally surrounded by [such] worthless characters, being himself noted as a gambler and unprincipled man." Northup claimed that Shaw "had made a wife of…

12. Hillcrest, J.B. Robert Plantation, Bunkie

When Epps first enslaved Northup, Epps was leasing his wife's uncle's plantation on Bayou Huffpower. Few records exist about Robert's plantation in Avoyelles Parish. The 1840 census listing of his residence in the parish reported…

13. 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…

14. Randal Eldred plantation, Big Cane

After the fight with Tibeats that could have cost Northup his life, he was rented out to a man he refers to simply as Mr. Eldret. For six weeks Northup worked clearing land and building a cabin for Randal Eldred[sic] in an area Northup refers to as…

15. Judge William Turner Plantation, Bayou Salle, Centerville

In the fall of 1845 the cotton crops of Bayou Boeuf had been destroyed by caterpillars. So as not to loose out on a profit, the planters of the bayou sent 147 slaves down to St. Mary's Parish to rent them out to sugar planters. Northup was…