Background: Solomon Northup was born a free man in Minerva, NY, July 1808. Solomon was a literate man who worked on the Champlain Canal and as a carpenter and inventor. While working as a hack and violinist in prominent hotels of Saratoga Springs, he was abducted, held in a slave pen in Washington City (now Washington, DC) and sold into slavery in Louisiana for 12 years before regaining his freedom. Henry B. Northup, attorney in Sandy Hill (now Hudson Falls) along with citizens of Saratoga and surrounding area were instrumental in arranging for Solomon’s rescue in 1853 and return to Saratoga. Mr. Northup published his autobiography Twelve Years A Slave in July 1853 about his ordeal. It is believed he traveled throughout the region selling his book and speaking out against slavery and became an abolitionist.
Although, Mr. Northup sought to bring his captors to trail, they were never prosecuted and he mysteriously disappeared. To date, his burial site has not been identified and it is not known whether or not he was murdered, re-captured or died of natural causes.
In 1999, working closely with former Mayor J. Michael O’Connell, an historical marker was erected at the corner of Congress and Broadway marking the place Mr. Northup was abducted from. With outreach to Lillian B. Horne of Albany, an exhibit panel was erected inside the Saratoga Visitor Center commemorating his life.
At this event, Northup family descendants from four states, including matriarch Victoria Northup Linzy Dunham, age 90, were honored in Saratoga Springs. A city proclamation was presented by Mayor J. Michael O’Connell(R).
On May 23, 2000 as part of the Bicentennial, The Library of Congress honored at a reception in Great Hall, Library of Congress (LOC), Washington, DC. Solomon Northup Day is a multi-cultural, educational and historic program now a permanent part of the Local Legacies Folklife Center LOC archives. The Local Legacies projects were selected for their merit and contribution to the community and are featured as a testament to the uniqueness of our nation and to the pride of its citizens in their heritage. Library of Congress : http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/legacies/NY/200003387.html.
In July 2000, Professor Clifford Brown, Ph. D. Political Science professor, Union College, conducted a tour of Solomon’s footsteps for guests and descendants. The Historical Society of Saratoga Springs Executive Director Jamie Parillo, installed an exhibition on Solomon Northup History and Solomon Northup Day – A Celebration of Freedom. This annual event program takes place annually in the City of Saratoga Springs and is the first time an African-American has been honored in the City of Saratoga Springs, NY.
In 2001, descendants again participated along with various clergy, legislative members from both political parties, college faculty and staff from two regional colleges and historians. Mayor Ken Koltz (D) proclaimed the 3rd Saturday in July, Solomon Northup Day by approval of Saratoga City Council. This program attracts culturally diverse citizens from throughout Saratoga County, the Capital region and beyond.
The 2002 event featured historian and author David Fiske, presented new information uncovered in his research on Mr. Northup’s life and Corky Reinhart, Ph.D. noted historian on African-American history and University Without Walls director, Skidmore College, made a presentation on the life and times of Isaac Johnson.
Clergy attended many times over the years to include a Priest from St. Clement’s church, Bishop Arnold Byrd of Soul Savings Station Church, Linda Hoddy, minister, Unitarian Universalist of Saratoga Spring and former City Attorney Peter Tulin, Esq also attended and delivered a message in Hebrew.
Local artists Francelise Guilliame Dawkins, Stephen Tyson and Michael Terra also attended and presented their works of art.
Professor Tim Harper, Skidmore College moderated a panel discussion on current freedom and justice issues with panelists, Professors Mason Stokes, Darryl Pinckney, of Skidmore College, Asante Shipp, Frederick Douglass orator, Alice Green, Ph. D. Executive Director, Center for Law and Justice and Albany businessman, Michael Terry. Dr. Ceclia Sanz, Executive Director, Centro Civico, Albany spoke on historical and cultural issues with regard to the Hispanic community. City Historian Marianne Cardillo Fitzgerald and Barb Thomas, President, Saratoga County League of Women Voters as well Clifford Brown, Ph. D. Union College and Old Fort House Museum Director, Paul McCarty were also speakers for several years.
The U. S. Postal Service unveiled a Solomon Northup cancellation stamp in honor of Solomon Northup. This cancellation is the largest seller of any stamp issued in Saratoga Springs postal history. 2001 and 2003.
Children’s storytelling by Griot, Sweet Mama Stringbean2, (classical guitar selections by John Charles Cook, Er-Hu performance by Frank X. Wang, who told the history of this ancient Chinese instrument, gospel and jazz by The Jimmy Daggs Quartet, and a historical enactment of Solomon Northup and wife, Ann Hampton portrayed by Cliff Oliver Mealy and actress Michele Barcomb, both of Greenwich, NY, portrayed Ann Hampton in period costume, concluded the event.
A Freedom and Justice Art Exhibition sponsored by the Saratoga Arts Council, Art in Public Spaces Project took place at the Saratoga Public Library and a book display of Solomon Northup’s autobiography, Twelve Years A Slave at Borders Books on-going prior to the event to generate awareness.
Most importantly, in 2002, City Council voted and issued a proclamation acknowledging Solomon Northup Day as the 3rd Saturday in July, in the City of Saratoga Springs. Northup family descendants attended as well as Cong. John E. Sweeney, Assemblyman Roy McDonald; Senators H. Clinton and Schumer were also invited.
In 2003, Solomon Northup Day was selected by, The Smithsonian Institution, as part of their ‘Jubilee’ traveling exhibition project. Project director, Anthony Gaultieri, Anacostia Museum, [Smithsonian] attended and documented the event for the museum.
In the years to follow, some of the attendees were:
International violinist, educator John Blake, Jr3., presented the history of the violin dating back to the African continent, local residents keyboard vocalists Carol Daggs & bassist Jimmy Daggs , Marynell Morgan Brown, Ph. D. Empire State College, and famous guitarist David Malachowski4 added world-class talent to this positive energy program.
Some of the presenters were: Underground Railroad author and historian, author Tom Calarco, Cordell Reaves, Coordinator, Underground Railroad Heritage Trail Heritage New York. Mary Liz and Paul Stewart, of the Underground Railroad History Project, Albany attended and writer, historian and found president, Don Parson, President, the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, Plattsburgh and founder of the North Star Museum as well as other guests from Alliance Senegal Quebec, Montreal Canada.
In 2007, U. S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Network to Freedom, a national project, awarded for inclusion Solomon Northup Day program. This event continues to grow each year with greater diversity and participation.
This 15th year, July 20, 2013, the event took place at Filene Hall, Skidmore College, receiving international attention and was attended by more than 50 descendants some of whom were meeting each other for the first time. [Enid Mastrianni co-chair and financial contributor].
Don Papson, historian, author and founder of The North Star Museum and The North Country Underground Railroad Association, Plattsburgh spoke about Solomon Northup history and presented the founder with her fist gift; a framed broadside of the five-act play, The Free Slave, written by Solomon Northup. The late Bishop Arnold Byrd of the Soul Savings Station community church was honored along with two Solomon Northup descendants, Laura Linzy and Irene Zahos.
Nationally renowned violinist Henrique Prince attended again this year along with vocalist Gloria Gassaway5
returning artist Dan Hubbs and local classical guitarist John Charles Cook. Mary Houng Lee Chen international opera singers and community business owners attended and performed traditional Chinese and the work of Paul Robeson. Film actor Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Patsey, stated how attending this event gave even more meaning to her role in the Plan B Production film, 12 Years A Slave. Regency Films and Fox Searchlight premiered segments of the film and attendees received a special message from UK director Steve McQueen on film 12 Years a Slave released Oct. 1.
Renee Moore, Founder Solomon Northup Day, 1999-2013. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org,
518-596-4329. A woman-of-color, introducing Saratoga and beyond to this story for 15 years and bringing together descendants as well as supplying a platform for authors, historians, academia, artists, clergy and the community.
1 New research reveals Solomon was born in Schroon, July 10, 1807 according to researcher David Fiske.
2 Shirley Ferguson retired librarian, Lake George. [now deceased]
3 Father of famed drummer, Jonathan Blake who performed summer 2013 at The Zankel Music Center.
4 Former guitarist for Shania Twain.
5 Formerly backup vocalist for icon James Brown.