Summary and Analysis
Chapter II reveals how Solomon Northup came to be lured away from his home in Saratoga Springs and subsequently kidnapped and forced into slavery.
In March 1841, Northup was unemployed and looking for work. While walking in Saratoga Springs, he met Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton, two “gentlemen of respectable appearance.” They asked about his experience as a violin player and offered Solomon lucrative pay to join them in working for a circus in New York City. Solomon eagerly accepted. The three men traveled to New York City, but the circus was not there. Brown and Hamilton then urged Solomon to go farther to Washington, D.C., which at the time was slave territory. At this point, Northup was not suspicious of them whatsoever. After a day of celebration in Washington, D.C., Northup began to feel sick, though not drunk. On the way to see the physician, he passed out, eventually waking up in darkness—and in chains.
The first casualty of the slave trade, according to this portion of Solomon Northup’s narrative, is human integrity. Writing more than a decade after his kidnapping, Northup still has difficulty believing that Brown and Hamilton could be so evil as to feign friendship and then use it as a means of betrayal. He writes, “I know not but they were innocent of the great wickedness of which I now believe them guilty.”
Brown and Hamilton promised Northup work with a circus, which never materialized. They promised he would meet the circus in New York City, which was a lie. Then they promised he’d meet the circus in Washington D.C., which was also a lie. They promised him high wages, but he never got to keep any money they paid him. They promised a quick departure from Washington D.C., then “postponed” it, forcing Northup to stay longer than planned in slave territory. They promised him safety in slave territory, but when he was drugged and ill, Brown and Hamilton disappeared.
These two men come to symbolize not only the kind of fraud necessary to keep slavery intact, but also the moral corruption that the slave trade wreaks upon the white race as a whole. Brown and Hamilton show in personal detail how slavery’s demands can turn otherwise good white men into depraved beings who’ll use kindness as an evil deceit. The unspoken warning to Northup’s white contemporaries is clear: The slave trade that corrupted Brown and Hamilton can, and will, corrupt your entire race, too.