Arrival in New Orleans
- Glimpse of Freeman
- Genois, the Recorder
- His Description of Solomon
- Reach Charleston Interrupted by Custom
- Pass through Richmond
- Arrival in Washington
- Burch Arrested
- Shekels and Thorn
- Their Testimony
- Burch Acquitted
- Arrest of Solomon
- Burch withdraws the Complaint
- The Higher Tribunal
- Departure from Washington
- Arrival at Sandy Hill
- Old Friends and Familiar Scenes
- Proceed to Glens Falls
- Meeting with Anne, Margaret, and Elizabeth
- Solomon Northrup Staunton
As the steamer glided on its way towards New Orleans,
perhaps I was not happy perhaps there
was no difficulty in restraining my self
from dancing round the deck perhaps I
did not feel grateful to the man who had
come so many hundred miles for me - perhaps
I did not light his pipe, and wait and watch
his word, and run at his slightest bidding.
If I didn't well, no matter.
We tarried at New Orleans two days. During that
time I pointed out the locality of Freeman's
slave pen, and the room in which Ford
purchased me. We happened to meet
Theophilus in the street, but I did not
think it worth while to renew acquaintance
with him. From respectable citizens we
ascertained he had became a low, miserable
rowdy - a broken down, disreputable man.
We also visited the recorder, Mr. Genois, to
whom Senator Soule's letter was directed,
and found him a man well deserving the wide
and honorable reputation that he bears.
He very generously furnished us with a sort
of legal pass, over his signature and seal
of office, and as it contains the recorder's
description of my personal appearance, it
may not be amiss to insert it here.
The following is a copy:
"State of Louisiana - City of New
Recorder's Office, Second
"To all to whom these presents shall come: -
"This is to certify that Henry B. Northrup,
Esquire, of the county of Washington,
New York, had produced before me due
evidence of the freedom of Solomon, a
mulatto man, aged about forty-two years,
five feet, seven inches and six lines,
woolly hair, and chestnut eyes, who is a
native born of the State of New York.
That the said Northrup being about bringing
the said Solomon to his native place, though
the southern routes the civil authorities
are requested to let the aforesaid colored
man Solomon pass unmolested, he demeaning
well and properly.
"Given under my hand and the seal of the city of New
Orleans this 7th January, 1853.
"TH. GENOIS, Recorder"
On the 8th we
came to Lake Ponchartrain, by railroad, and,
in due time, following the usual route,
reached Charleston. After going on
board the steamboat, paying our passage at
this city, Mr. Northrup was called
upon by a custom-house officer to explain
why he had not registered his servant.
He replied that he had no servant
that, as the agent of New York, he was
accompanying a free citizen of that State
from slavery to freedom, and did not desire
nor intend to make any registry whatever.
I conceived from his conservation and
manner, though I may perhaps be entirely
mistaken, that no great pains would be taken
to avoid whatever difficulty the Charleston
officials might deem proper to create.
At length, however, we were permitted to
proceed, and, passing through Richmond,
where I caught a glimpse of Goodin's pen,
arrived in Washington January 17th, 1853.
We ascertained that both Burch and Radburn
were still residing in that city.
Immediately a complaint was entered with a
police magistrate of Washington, against
James H. Burch, for kidnapping and
selling me into slavery. He was
arrested upon a warrant issued by Justice
Goddard, and returned before Justice
Mansel, and held to bail in the sum
of three thousand dollars. When first
arrested, Burch was much excited,
exhibiting the utmost fear and alarm, and
before reaching the justice's office on
Louisiana Avenue, and before knowing the
precise nature of the complaint, begged the
police to permit him to consult Benjamin
O. Shekels, a slave trader of seventeen
years' standing, and his former partner.
The latter became his bail.
At ten o'clock, the 18th of January, both parties
appeared before the magistrate.
Senator Chase, of Ohio Hon. Orville
Clark, of Sandy Hill, and Mr.
Northup acted as counsel for the
prosecution, and Joseph H. Bradley
for the defence.
Gen. Orville Clark was called and sworn as a
witness, and testified that he had known me
from childhood, and that I was a free man,
as was my father before me. Mr.
Northup then testified to the same, and
proved the facts connected with his mission
Ebenezer Radburn was then sworn for the
prosecution, and testified he was
forty-eight years old; that he was a
resident of Washington, and had known
Burch fourteen years; that in 1841 he
was a keeper of Williams' slave pen;
that he remembered the fact of my
confinement in the pen that year. At
this point it was admitted by the
defendant's counsel, that I had been placed
in the pen by Burch in the spring of
1841, and hereupon the prosecution rested.
Benjamin O. Shekels was then offered as a
witness by the prisoner. Benjamin
is a large, coarse-featured man, and the
reader may perhaps get a somewhat correct
conception of him by reading the exact
language he used in answer to the first
question of defendant's lawyer. He
asked the place of his nativity, and his
reply, uttered in a sort of rowdyish way,
was in these very words -
"I was born in Ontario county, New-York, and weighed
Benjamin was a prodigious baby! He
further testified that he kept the Steamboat
Hotel in Washington in 1841, and saw me
there in the spring of that
year. He was proceeding to the state
what he had heard two men say, when
Senator Chase raised a legal objection,
to wit, that the sayings of third persons,
being hearsay, was improper evidence.
The objection was overruled by the Justice,
and Shekels continued, stating that two men
came to his hotel and represented they had a
colored man for sale; that they had an
interview with Burch; that they
stated they came from Georgia, but he did
not remember the county; that they gave a
full history of the boy, saying he was a
bricklayer, and played on the violin; that
Burch remarked he would purchase if
they could agree; that they went out and
brought the boy in, and that I was the same
person. He further testified, with as
much unconcern as if it was the truth, that
I represented I was born and bred in
Georgia; that one of the young men with me
was my master; that I exhibited a great deal
of regret at parting with him, and he
believed "got into tears!" - nevertheless,
that I insisted my master had a right to
sell me; that he ought to sell
me; and the remarkable reason I gave was,
according to Shekels, because he, my master,
"had bee gambling and on a spree!"
He continued, in these words, copied from the minutes
taken on the examination: "Burch
interrogated the boy in the usual manner,
told him if he purchased him he should send
him south. The boy said he had no
objection, that in fact he would like to go
south. Burch paid $650 for him,
to my knowledge. I don't know what name was
given him, but think it
was not Solomon.
Did not know the name of either of the two
men. They were in my tavern two or
three hours, during which time the boy
played on the violin. The bill of sale
was signed in my bar-room. It was a
printed blank, filled up by Burch.
Before 1838 Burch were my
partner. Our business was buying and
selling slaves. After that time he was
a partner of Theophilus Freeman, of
New-Orleans. Burch bought here
- Freeman sold there!"
Shekels, before testifying, had heard my
relation of the circumstances connected with
the visit to Washington with Brown
and Hamilton, and therefore, it was,
undoubtedly, he spoke of "two men," and of
my playing on the violin. Such was his
fabrication, utterly untrue, and yet there
was found in Washington a man who endeavored
to corroborate him.
Benjamin A. Thorn testified he was at Shekels'
in 1841, and saw a colored boy playing on a
fiddle. "Shekels said he was
for sale. Heard his master tell him he
should sell him. The boy acknowledged
to me he was a slave. I was not
present when the money was paid. Will
not swear positively this is a boy.
The master came near shedding tears:
I think the boy did! I have been
engaged in the business of taking slaves
south, off and on, for twenty years.
When I can't do that I do something else."
I was then offered as a witness, but, objection being
made, the court decided my evidence
inadmissible. It was rejected solely
on the ground that I was a col-
ored man - the fact of my being a fee
citizen of New-York not being disputed.
Shekels having testified there was a bill of
sale executed, Burch was called upon
by the prosecution to produce it, inasmuch
as such a paper would corroborate the
testimony of Thorn and Shekels.
The prisoner's counsel saw the necessity of
exhibiting it, or giving some reasonable
explanation for its non-production. To
effect the latter, Burch himself was
offer- as a witness in his own behalf.
It was contended by counsel for the people,
that such testimony should not be allowed -
that it was in contravention of every rule
of evidence, and if permitted would defeat
the ends of justice. His testimony,
however, was received by the court! He
made oath that such a bill of sale had been
drawn up and signed, but he had lot it,
and did not know what had become of it!
Thereupon the magistrate was requested to
dispatch a police officer to Burch's
residence, with directions to bring his
books containing his bills of sales for the
year 1841. The request was granted,
and before any measure could be taken to
prevent it, the officer had obtained
possession of the books, and brought them
into court. The sales for the year
1841 were found, and carefully examined, but
no sale of myself, by any name, was
Upon this testimony the court held the fact to be
established, the Burch came
innocently and honestly by me, and
accordingly he was discharged.
An attempt was then made by Burch and
his satellites, to fasten upon me the charge
that I had conspired with the two white men
to defraud him - with what success, appears
in an extract taken from an article in the
New York Times, published a day or two
subsequent to the trial: "The counsel
for the defendant had drawn up, before the
defendant was discharged, an affidavit,
signed by Burch, and had a warrant
out against the colored man for a conspiracy
with the two white men before referred to,
to defraud Burch out of six hundred
and twenty-five dollars. The warrant
was served, and the colored man arrested and
brought before officer Goddard.
Burch and his witnesses appeared in
court, and H. B. Northup appeared as
counsel for the colored man, stating he was
ready to proceed as counsel on the part of
the defendant, and asking no delay whatever.
Burch, after consulting
privately a short time with Shekels,
stated to the magistrate that he wished him
to dismiss the complaint, as he would not
proceed farther with it. Defendant's
counsel stated to the magistrate that if the
complaint was withdrawn, it must be without
the request or consent of the defendant.
Burch then asked the magistrate to
let him have the complaint and the warrant,
and he took them. The counsel for the
defendant objected to his receiving them,
and insisted they should remain a part of
the records of the court, and that the court
had been under the process. Burch
delivered them up, and the court rendered a
ment of discontinuance by the request of the
prosecutor, and filed it in his office."
There may be those who will affect to believe the
statement of the slave-trader - those, in
whose minds his allegations will weigh
heavier than mine. I am a poor colored
man - one of the down-trodden and degraded
race, whose humble voice may not be heeded
by the oppressor - but knowing
the truth, and with a full sense of my
accountability, I do solemnly declare before
men, and before God, that any charge or
assertion, that I conspired directly or
indirectly with any person or persons to
sell myself; that any other account of my
visit to Washington, my capture and
imprisonment in Williams' slave pen,
than is contained in these pages, is utterly
and absolutely false. I never played
on the violin in Washington. I never
was in the Steamboat Hotel, and never saw
Thorn or Shekels, to my
knowledge, in my life, until last January.
The story of the trio of slave-traders is a
fabrication as absurd as it is base and
unfounded. Were it true, I should not
have turned aside on my way back to liberty
for the purpose of prosecuting Burch.
I should have avoided rather than
sought him. I should have known that
such a step would have resulted in rendering
me infamous. Under the circumstances -
longing as I did to behold my family, and
elated with the prospect of returning home -
it is an outrage upon probability to suppose
I would have run the hazard, not only of
exposure, but of a criminal
DEPARTURE FROM WASHINGTON.
conviction, by voluntarily placing myself in
the position I did, if the statements of
Burch and his confederates contain a
particle of truth. I took pains to
seek him out, to confront him in a court of
law, charging him with the crime of
kidnapping; and the only motive that
impelled me to this step; was a burning
sense of the wrong he had inflicted upon me,
and a desire to bring him to justice.
He was acquitted, in the manner, and by such
means as have been described. A human
tribunal has permitted him to escape; but
there is another and a higher tribunal,
where false testimony will not prevail, and
where I am willing, so far at least as these
statements are concerned, to be judged at
We left Washington on the 20th of January, and
proceeding by the way of Philadelphia,
New-York, and Albany, reached Sandy Hill in
the night of the 21st. My heart
overflowed with happiness as I looked around
upon old familiar scenes, and found myself
in the midst of friends of other days.
The following morning I started, in company
with several acquaintances, for Glens Falls,
the residence of Anne and our children.
As I entered their comfortable cottage, Margaret
was the first that met me. She did not
recognize me. When I left her, she was
but seven years old, a little prattling
girl, playing with her toys. Now she
was grown to womanhood - was married, with a
bright-eyed boy standing by her side.
Not forgetful of his
enslaved, unfortunate grand-father, she had
named the child Solomon Northrup Staunton.
When told who I was, she was overcome with
emotion, and unable to speak.
Presently Elizabeth entered the room,
and Anne came running from the hotel,
having been in formed of my arrival.
They embraced me, and with tears flowing
down their cheeks, hung upon my neck.
But I draw a veil over a scene which can
better be imagined than described.
When the violence of our emotions had subsided to a
sacred joy - when the household gathered
round the fire, that sent out its warm and
crackling comfort through the room, we
conversed of the thousand joys and sorrows,
the trials and troubles we had each
experienced during the long separation.
Alonzo was absent in the western part
of the State. The boy had written to
his mother a short time previous of the
prospect of his obtaining sufficient money
to purchase my freedom. From his
earliest years, that had been the chief
object of his thoughts and his ambition.
They knew I was on bondage. The letter
written on board the brig, and Clem Ray
himself, had given them that information.
But where I was, until the arrival of
Bass' letter, was a matter of
conjecture, Elizabeth and Margaret
once returned from school - so Anne
informed me - weeping bitterly. On
inquiring the cause of the children's
sorrow, it was found that, while studying
geography, their attention had been
attracted to the picture of slaves working
ARRIVAL HOME , AND FIRST MEETING WITH HIS
WIFE AND CHILDREN
cotton-field, and an
overseer following them with his whip.
It reminded them of the sufferings their
father might be, and, as it happened,
actually was, enduring in the South.
Numerous incidents, such as these, were
related - incidents showing they still held
me in constant remembrance, but not,
perhaps, of sufficient interest to reader,
to be recounted.
My narrative is at an end. I have no comments to
make upon the subject of Slavery.
Those who read this book may form their own
opinions of the "peculiar institution."
What it may be in other States, I do not
profess to know; what it is in the region of
Red River, is truly and faithfully
delineated in these pages. This is no
fiction, no exaggeration. If I have
failed in anything, it has been in
presenting to the reader too prominently the
bright side of the picture. I doubt
not hundreds have been as unfortunate as
myself; that hundreds of free citizens have
been kidnapped and sold into slavery, and
are at this moment wearing out their lives
on plantations in Texas and Louisiana.
But I forbear. Chastened and subdued
in spirit by the sufferings I have borne,
and thankful to that good Being through
whose mercy I have been restored to
happiness and liberty, I hope henceforward
to lead an upright though lowly life, and
rest at last in the church yard where my
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