Summary and Analysis
Platt and Eliza (now named “Dradey”) are transported by their new owner, William Ford, to his home in the “Great Pine Woods,” on the banks of the Red River in the Avoyelles and Bayou Boeuf region of central Louisiana. According to Northup, “there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford.”
When they reach the Ford plantation, they are greeted warmly and treated kindly by both William Ford’s wife and by his slaves. Eliza is assigned to work in the house; Platt is sent to work in Ford’s lumber mill. This continues through the summer of 1841. On Sundays, Master Ford makes a habit of gathering his slaves for a church service, preaching to them from the Bible and encouraging moral behavior. In gratitude for Ford’s kindness, Platt devises a way to transport lumber via waterway instead of over land, thereby saving the master a lot of money. Platt also earns himself a reputation as the “smartest nigger in the Pine Woods” as a result of this success. Eventually, Platt is assigned to work with one of Ford’s hired hands, a short-tempered, white carpenter named John M. Tibeats.
Chapter VII begins a new phase in Northup’s narrative and offers the first hands-on evidence of what it was like to be a human owned by another human. There is an internal moral struggle for Solomon here because he finds William Ford to be a man of unquestioned Christian character. He is, according to Solomon, “a model master, walking uprightly…and fortunate was the slave that came to his possession.” Essentially the question is, how can a “good” Christian man participate so deeply in the corrupted institution of slavery? Solomon struggles with the answer.
The intermingling of religion and slavery in the antebellum South was problematic, and Northup had to address it as it related to William Ford, who eventually became a Baptist preacher. The only explanation Northup could make was in the master’s upbringing: “Looking through the same medium with his fathers before him, he saw things in the same light.” As justification for Ford’s slave-holding empire, that explanation seems to fall short. Still, it does call to mind the maxim that children grow up to be like their parents—a point Northup makes again in later chapters when discussing Edwin Epps’ son—and offered a subtle challenge for Christian parents in Northup’s time to raise a new generation of children who are taught to treat all people with dignity and kindness.