THE SOLOMON NORTHUP TRAIL

By Meredith Melancon

Kidnapped and sold into a life of slavery, Solomon Northup spent twelve years in Rapides and Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana laboring on plantations. Northup was taken from his home in Glen Falls, New York lured by the promise of work playing his violin in a traveling circus. He was drugged and sold at a Washington, D.C. slave auction to slave traders in New Orleans before ending up on the banks of Bayou Boeuf in central Louisiana. While building a house for his third master, Edwin Epps, Solomon met Samuel Bass, a Canadian carpenter, who mailed a letter for him that alerted Northup's friends and family of his whereabouts. They were then able to prove his free status as a citizen of New York, securing his freedom in a Marksville courthouse. Once back in New York, Northup published his story with the aid of ghost writer David Wilson, and Twelve Years a Slave, 1841-1853 became a widely read slave narrative often listed 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 his life in the northernmost corner of Acadiana and the subsequent trial of his kidnappers. Following the edited version, in 1985 Eakin published a guide to the Northup Trail. This trail includes sites remembered by Northup in his narrative and substantiated by Eakin's research. Northup names numerous people and places but this trail highlights the places he worked 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, those sites outside of Acadiana are included. Retracing the trail, little evidence of the arduous and impressive existence of slaves along the bayous is found, but 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. Bennettville House and Store, Alexandria vacinity

The Bennettsville Store was in continuous operation from at least 1817 until the late 1960s. Originally owned by Joseph R. Robert, Ezra Bennett, a New York native, bought the store most likely around 1836 running it through 1857. In 1960 a trunk of…

5. 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 worked under a…

6. 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…

7. 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 slaves,…

8. Eldred's Bend, original location of Bennett Store and House

The Bennett Store was originally located on property owned by Joseph B. Robert. Because the land across from the store was owned by Randal Eldred, the curve in Bayou Boeuf became known as Eldred's Bend. This bend is located on Highway 71 between…

9. Norwood Plantation (Live Oak), Bunkie

The home of Mary McCoy was built in 1853 as a wedding present from her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Silas Talbert, upon her marriage to Dr. Dewitt Rhodes. McCoy was orphaned as a young child when her parents died during the yellow fever epidemic and…

10. Silas Talbert Plantation, Bunkie

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 than to…

11. T. Douglas Marshall Plantation, Bunkie

Solomon Northup often mentions 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 relates a story about Marshall killing a Natchez man named Jewell in the…

12. Original location of Edwin Epps House, Bunkie

On May 2, 1843 Edwin Epps purchased a slave, Platt (Northup), from John M. Tibaut for $1500. The original record is no longer in the courthouse, however, there is a legible copy. Epps was Northup's third and final slave owner for ten years,…

13. 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 claims that Shaw "had made a wife of…

14. Jim Burns' Plantation, Bunkie

James, Jim, Burns was a neighbor of Epps. In his treatment of his slaves Northup claimed "that barbarian kept their backs so sore and raw, that they could not perform the customary labor demanded daily of the slave. He boasted of his cruelty . .…

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

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

16. Avoyelles Parish Courthouse, Marksville

Before the Civil War states across the north began passing personal liberty laws to protect their free black citizens from kidnapping. New York was one of those states. Under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 a white agent had to personally appear in…

17. 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…

18. Judge William Turner Plantation, Bayou Salle, Centerpoint

In the fall of 1845 the cotton crops of Bayou Bouef 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…