Read the New York Times’ 1853 Report on the Solomon Northup “Kidnapping Case”

On Sunday, 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The film tells the true story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who was drugged and kidnapped in Washington, DC, in 1841 and sold into slavery. Northup, a violinist and family man based in Saratoga Springs, New York, was forced to work on Louisiana plantations for 12 years.

On January 20, 1853 (the same year Northup’s memoir Twelve Years a Slave was published), the New York Times ran a report on Northup titled, “The Kidnapping Case,” promising “interesting disclosures” (it spells his name “Northrup”):

“By the laws of Louisiana no man can be punished there for having sold Solomon into slavery wrongfully, because more than two years had elapsed since he was sold; and no recovery can be had for his services, because he was bought without the knowledge that he was a free citizen,” the story reads.

During his acceptance speech, 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen dedicated the award to the tens of millions of people still in slavery today.


(h/t the New York Times’ Facebook page.)


Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.