Lesson Plan

Twelve Years a Slave: Was the Case of Solomon Northup Exceptional?

Image from frontispiece for original edition of 12 Years a Slave.
Photo caption

Image from frontispiece for original edition of 12 Years a Slave.

"The voices and words of people from the past ground us in actual lived experience as refracted through individual memory, challenging what we think we know about the past and opening our eyes to our common humanity across distances of time and space."

—Dr. William L. Andrews

This lesson focuses on the slave narrative of Solomon Northup, a free black living in the North, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. Slave narratives are autobiographies of former slaves that describe their experiences during enslavement, how they became free, and their lives in freedom. Because slave narratives treat the experience of one person, they raise questions about whether that individual’s experiences exceptional.

Guiding Questions

How can we determine how widespread or typical experiences reported in a slave narrative such as Twelve Years a Slave actually were?

Why is it important to know how to make inferences from a set of historical evidence or from a set of evidence about current events?

Learning Objectives

Analyze Solomon Northup’s narrative to learn about the threats to freedom and acts of resistance to enslavement. 

Examine the circumstances that led to the capture of free Blacks in non-slave states and territories.