"It doesn't escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else's," Lupita Nyong'o said in her graciously beautiful acceptance speech for best supporting actress. The 12 Years a Slave actress gave thanks to the spirit of Patsy and Solomon, the real-life tragic figures whose story is brought to life in the film that also took home best picture. The movie is based on Solomon's book of the same name, which captured the attention of Americans when it was written. And 1853, the same year the memoir came out, The New York Times covered "the kidnapping case" that "excited so high a degree of interest."
The article described Solomon as "this unfortunate man who, who had been snatched so villainously from the land of freedom, and compelled to undergo sufferings almost inconceivable in this land of heathenism, where slavery exists with features more revolting than those described in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'" It began by reporting on the kidnapping:
"While suffering with severe pain some persons came in, and, seeing the condition he was in, proposed to give him some medicine and did so. That is the last thing of which he had any recollection until he found himself chained to the floor of Williams' slave pen in this city, and handcuffed."
The complicated story of his rescue is also detailed. Solomon's friends in New York had managed to find him and fight for his release with the support of New York's governor. The lawyer of Solomon's last owner, Eppes, determined that there was no use in litigating the case. Here's what happened next:
"Having settled everything satisfactorily, the agent [working on behalf of Solomon] and the reduced man started for New-Orleans on the 4th of January instant, and on arriving there, traced the titles of the colored man from TIBAUT to EPPES, from FREE-MAN to FORD — all the titles being recording in the proper books kept for that purpose.
"Having traced the titles back as a far as possible in New Orleans, the party then proceeded to the City of Washington, where BIRCH lived; and on making inquiry, found who was the kepper[sic] of the slave pen in that City in 1841; and also ascertained from the keeper, upon the colored man (SOLOMON N.,) being pointed out to him — that he was placed in that pen in the Spring of 1841 and then kept for a short period by BIRCH."
The article also mentions the Patsy character:
"When Solomon was about to leave, under the care of Mr. Northrup, this girl came from behind her but, unseen by her master, and throwing her arms around the neck of Solomon congratulated him on his escape from slavery, and his return to his family, at the same time in language of despair exclaiming, 'But, Oh, God! what will become of me?'"
And, of course, there was no true justice:
"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."
As for Solomon Northup's family today, The Hollywood Reporter recently gathered his decedents for an interview. Carol Adams-Sally, 72, said, "My high school friends never absorbed it too well: 'Oh, I didn't know it was like that,'" while 15-year-old Milan Linzy said, "Growing up hearing the story and then seeing it gave me mixed feelings. I was upset because of what happened but excited that I finally got to see this real thing."