Solomon Northup, aka “Platt” A free black man who lived in the northern United States in the 1800s, Solomon was kidnapped in 1841, at age 33, and sold into slavery in the South, where he lived until he was rescued by friends in 1853. Solomon was married to Anne (Hampton) Northup and with her had three children: Elizabeth, Margaret, and Alonzo. The author of the memoir 12 Years a Slave, he chronicled his experience and ultimate emancipation as part of the abolitionist movement in the mid-1800s.
Henry B. Northup A white man, related to the family that owned Solomon’s father as a slave, and from the family from which Solomon took his last name. A lawyer, he journeyed south to rescue Solomon from captivity.
Merrill Brown One of two white con men who, with Abram Hamilton, deceived Solomon Northup and orchestrated his kidnapping. About 40 years old, short, and thick-set, Brown, with Hamilton, promised Northup lucrative work as a violin player in a circus, and thereby convinced him to accompany them to Washington, D.C. There they drugged him and allegedly sold him to slave trader James H. Burch while he was unconscious.
Abram Hamilton With Merrill Brown, co-kidnapper of Solomon Northup. Around 25 years old, tall, thin, and somewhat effeminate.
James H. Burch A brutal slave dealer who first kept Solomon Northup in captivity in Washington, D.C. A business partner with Theophilus Freeman of New Orleans, Burch was white, around 40 years old, and a large, powerful man with chestnut hair, slightly gray. Burch shackled Northup in a hidden slave pen and then, apparently enraged by Northup’s claims that he was a free man, beat and whipped Solomon into submission. After the brutal beating, Burch threatened to kill Solomon if he ever mentioned his freedom or background again. Believing that threat applied to all slavers, Northup never spoke to anyone again of his being born free until nearly 12 years later. Upon being emancipated, Northup and his lawyer pressed criminal charges against Burch and his accomplice, Ebenezer Radburn. However, Burch prevailed in the proceedings by hiring false witnesses to testify on his behalf.
Eliza Berry A fellow black captive in James H. Burch’s Washington, D.C. slave pen and lifelong friend to Solomon Northup. She was the mother of both Randall Berry and Emily Berry. She had been the slave and mistress of a rich white man named Elisha Berry, who treated her kindly and fathered her daughter, Emily. Elisha Berry promised emancipation for Eliza and her children upon his death; however, when he passed away, his heirs reneged on that promise. Under the ruse of taking her to get her free papers, the heirs sold Eliza and her children into Burch’s slave pen. From there, she was sent downriver, where Theophilus Freeman cruelly separated her from her children. She was sold, with Solomon Northup, to William Ford in Louisiana. She never recovered from the emotional devastation of losing her children, mourning them the rest of her life and dying without ever seeing Randall or Emily again.
Theophilus Freeman A New Orleans, Louisiana, white slave trader who worked in association with James H. Burch. He took possession of Solomon Northup in New Orleans and there forcibly assigned him the name “Platt.” He ran the slave auction that sold Platt to William Ford of Louisiana. He was responsible also for separating Eliza Berry from her children.
William Ford The white man who bought Solomon Northup and Eliza Berry from Theophilus Freeman. Described by Northup as a “noble, candid, Christian man,” he owned a large plantation as well as a lumber mill in the “Great Pine Woods,” in the parish of Avoyelles on the right bank of the Red River in central Louisiana. Highly regarded by Northup as a fair and kind slave owner, he rescued Solomon from John M. Tibeats and others on several occasions. He was forced to sell Northup after facing financial setbacks. He later became a Baptist preacher.
John M. Tibeats A white carpenter who worked for William Ford. In 1842, he took possession of Solomon Northup as payment of a debt by William Ford. Described as a “quick-tempered, spiteful man,” Tibeats was Northup’s archenemy. More than once, he tried to kill Solomon out of anger but was prevented each time. Eventually, he sold Solomon to the cruel cotton planter, Edwin Epps.
Mr. Chapin William Ford’s white overseer on the Bayou Boeuf plantation. Described as “a kindly-disposed man.” When John M. Tibeats tried to lynch and hang Solomon Northup, it was Chapin who rescued him (at gunpoint) from Tibeats’ gang. He then sent word to William Ford, who came to Solomon’s aid.
Edwin Epps Solomon Northup’s final, and cruelest, master. A cotton planter, he owned Northup for about ten years before the slave was freed by his friends from the North. Epps was heavy, tall, with high cheekbones and blue eyes. A frequent drunk, he was given to fits of rage and violent mirth. He delighted in both whipping his slaves and in making them dance all night in false exhibitions of happiness. Cunning, shrewd, and merciless, he was known as a “nigger breaker.” His own slaves nicknamed him “Old Hogjaw.” He was guilty of frequently raping and whipping the slave girl Patsey.
Mistress Epps Edwin Epps’ wife. Well-educated, attractive, and from a respected family, she was generally kind to her husband’s slaves—except Patsey, whom she hated as a jealous rival. Unable to convince her husband to sell Patsey, she instead insisted that her husband punish Patsey with frequent whippings and deprivations. When Edwin Epps tried to attack Solomon Northup with a knife, she argued in Solomon’s defense.
Patsey A 23-year-old black slave of Edwin Epps, and the most tragic figure in 12 Years a Slave. Naturally “a joyous creature, a laughing lighthearted girl,” frequent beatings and abuse made her despondent and suicidal as the years went on. She was a victim of repeated rapings by Edwin Epps and also of the jealous cruelty of Epps’ wife. Because she was the fastest, most productive cotton picker on Epps’ plantation, Epps refused to sell her, despite his wife’s constant demands in that regard. Solomon was forced to brutally whip a naked and helpless Patsey while Edwin Epps and Mistress Epps goaded him on.
Armsby A poor white man who worked alongside field slaves at Edwin Epps’ plantation for a short time. Solomon Northup asked him to mail a secret letter; in return for payment, Armsby promised to deliver the letter from Solomon to the post office. However, Armsby betrayed his promise and instead reported the incident to Edwin Epps.
Mr. Bass A white carpenter working to build a house on the Epps’ plantation. Bass was a native of Canada and an outspoken abolitionist. Solomon Northup confided in him, and he responded with loyalty and help. At great risk to his own safety, Bass wrote and mailed letters to Northup’s friends in the North and was instrumental in helping those friends find and rescue Solomon from slavery.
David Wilson Solomon Northup’s white editor and transcriber. Northup dictated his story to Wilson, who wrote it down and prepared it for publication under the title 12 Years a Slave.
Anne (Hampton) Northup Solomon’s wife and the mother of his three children. A black woman of mixed-race ancestry, she worked as a cook.
Cephas Parker and William Perry Co-owners of stores where Solomon Northup and his family shopped, and friends to whom Solomon addressed his letter for help.
Elizabeth Northup Solomon’s oldest child, she was 10 when her father was kidnapped.
Margaret Northup Solomon’s second child, she was 8 when her father was kidnapped.
Alonzo Northup Solomon’s youngest child, he was 5 when his father was kidnapped.
Ebenezer Radburn Accomplice of James H. Burch, who was a Washington, D.C., slave dealer.
Clemens Ray A fellow black captive in Burch’s Washington, D.C., slave pen.
Randall Berry Eliza’s treasured son and a captive in Burch’s Washington, D.C., slave pen.
Emily Berry Eliza’s daughter, about 7 or 8 years old, and a fellow captive in Burch’s slave pen.
Robert A captive with Solomon Northup, he was a co-conspirator in an aborted plan of revolt against his white captors. He died from smallpox before the plan could be carried out.
Arthur A captive with Solomon Northup, he was a co-conspirator in an aborted plan of revolt against his white captors. He was rescued by friends in New Orleans.
Peter Tanner William Ford’s brother-in-law, he took possession of Solomon Northup for a short time. He used the whip, the Bible, and wooden stocks as means of keeping his slaves subdued.
Abram An elderly slave of Edwin Epps of failing strength and mental faculties. Kind-hearted but absent-minded, and a great admirer of philosophy and General Jackson, he was sometimes called “Uncle Abram.”
Wiley A 48-year-old field slave of Edwin Epps and married to Phebe. He tried to run away once but was returned to Epps and beaten severely as punishment.
Phebe A house slave of Edwin Epps married to Wiley, mother of Bob and Henry, and sometimes called “Aunt Phebe.”
Bob A field slave of Edwin Epps and Phebe’s son by a former husband.
Henry A field slave of Edwin Epps and Phebe’s son by a former husband.
Edward A house slave of Edwin Epps and the son of Wiley and Phebe.
Harriet Shaw Black wife of the white Mr. Shaw and a friend to Patsey.
Young Master Epps The son of Edwin and Mistress Epps. A bright, energetic boy of 10 or 12 years, who imitated with joy the cruelties of his father.
John P. Waddill A lawyer in Marksville, Louisiana, who assisted Henry B. Northup in rescuing Solomon Northup.
Benjamin O. Shekels A slave trader and witness on behalf of James H. Burch during the trial of James H. Burch and Ebenezer Radburn.
Benjamin A. Thorn A witness on behalf of James H. Burch during the trial.
Solomon Northup Staunton Margaret Northup’s son and Solomon Northup’s grandson.