Saratoga County

City to celebrate Solomon Northup

The 200th anniversary of the birth of Solomon Northup, the free black man from the area who was kidn

The 200th anniversary of the birth of Solomon Northup, the free black man from the area who was kidnapped into slavery, takes place this year, and the city plans to mark it with a birthday cake.

Museums in Saratoga Springs and Fort Edward are holding educational events in his memory.

Saratoga Springs Visitor Center is hosting a Solomon Northup Day from 1 to 4 p.m. July 20 at the center at 297 Broadway.

The afternoon will include a historical re-enactor, birthday cake, a Northup exhibit and historians who are continuing to do research on Northup, said Mary-Jane Rau Pelzer, heritage educator at the Visitor Center.

The event is free to the public and funded by Saratoga Springs.

“We’re going to be very lucky to have almost the complete exhibit from Union College,” Pelzer said. The Northup exhibit is on loan from the Schenectady college.

Clifford Oliver Mealy, who has made a name for himself as a historical re-enactor, will portray Northup.

Pelzer also would like to book a fiddle player to give visitors a taste of the music that Northup played.

Paul McCarty, town and village historian of Fort Edward and executive director of the Old Fort House Museum in Fort Edward, will lead a gallery tour at the Visitor Center.

By now, Northup’s story is well-known — how the free black man was sold into slavery and then rescued 12 years later.

It was 1841 when he met two Fulton County men at the corner of Broadway and Congress Street in Saratoga Springs and they persuaded him to come to New York City and play his fiddle for $1 a day. “He packed a bag, planned to be back in a few days, and it took him 12 years before he returned,” Pelzer said.

Once in the city, he was drugged and sold into slavery in the South.

Northup worked on plantations and the literate man who had a grammar school education finally was able to sneak a letter out to his family.

Childhood friend and the son of Northup’s father’s owner, Henry Northup, a white man, traveled to Louisiana to rescue Solomon Northup.

Northup was born in 1808 in Essex County and lived in Fort Edward, Glens Falls and Saratoga Springs.

Pelzer noted that Northup encouraged slaves to escape when he met them as a musician at the United States Hotel on Broadway in Saratoga Springs. None of them followed the fiddler’s advice, however.

“A lot of people from the South came here to spend time in Saratoga. They were slaveholders and they brought their slaves with them,” Pelzer said.

Northup also lectured as an abolitionist after being freed and writing his book, “Twelve Years a Slave.”

One written source says he helped slaves travel from Massachusetts to Vermont on the Underground Railroad, but Pelzer said that information has not been verified. “That’s something we almost need to say, ‘Legend has it …’” she said.

Historians know Northup returned to his family in New York after he was freed and wrote a book on his experiences with the help of a Union College graduate. But they’re not sure what else he did.

“There’s still research on what happened to him, what he did after he returned,” Pelzer said. “The whole story has not been written.”

Clifford Brown Jr., a political science professor at Union College, and Don Papson, president of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association, are among those doing research who will be at the Saratoga Springs event.

The Visitor Center had a Solomon Northup Day each year from 1999 until 2006, but didn’t have one last year. Former local resident Renee Moore originally created the celebration.

Pelzer decided to organize this year’s event in honor of Northup’s 200th birthday.

The Fort Edward event will feature Mealy portraying Northup on the afternoon of Aug. 16. Details for that event have not yet been set, so people may call the Old Fort House Museum at 474-9600 for more information.

McCarty said he also will have a birthday cake for Northup at the Old Fort House, where Northup once lived.

“We don’t know where specifically he lived in the museum building,” McCarty said. But one room has been made up to look like it might have when Northup lived there.

McCarty said he hopes by next year to create a brochure of the “Solomon Northup Trail” showing places that were important to Northup.

The two celebrations will be different, highlighting distinct parts of Northup’s life and story, Pelzer said. “If people are coming to Saratoga, they will hopefully go up to Paul’s function because it won’t be the same; it won’t be a duplication.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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