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History & Synopsis

Listen: William's Slave Pen, Washington, D.C.
  • History Open or Close

    Originally published in 1853, Twelve Years a Slave was an immediate bombshell in the national debate over slavery leading up to the Civil War. It validated Harriett Beecher Stowe's fictional account of Southern slavery in Uncle Tom's Cabin, which had become the best selling American book in history a few years earlier and significantly changed public opinion in favor of abolition. In the 20th century, the narrative was lost to history until a 12-year-old Louisiana planter's daughter, the future Dr. Sue Eakin, reached upon a shelf in a plantation house to discover a dusty copy.

  • Synopsis Open or Close

    Hard working Solomon Northup, an educated free man of color in 1841, enjoys family life with his wife and three children in Saratoga Springs, New York. He delights his community with his fiddle playing and antic spirit, and has positive expectations of all he meets. When he is deceived by "circus promoters" to accompany them to a musical gig in the nation's capital, his joyful life takes an unimaginable turn. He awakens in shackles to find he has been drugged, kidnapped and bound for the slave block in D.C.

    After Solomon is shipped a thousand miles to New Orleans, he is assigned his slave name and quickly learns that the mere utterance of his true origin or rights as a free man are certain to bring severe punishment or death. While he endures the brutal life of a slave in Louisiana's isolated Bayou Boeuf plantation country, he must learn how to play the system and plot his escape home.

    For twelve years, his fine mind captures the reality of slavery in stunning detail, as we learn about the characters that populate plantation society and the intrigues of the bayou – from the collapse of a slave rebellion resulting in mass hangings due to traitorous slave Lew Cheney, to the tragic abuse of his friend Patsey because of Mrs. Epps' jealousy of her husband's sexual exploitation of his pretty young slave.

    When Solomon finally finds a sympathizing friend who risks his life to secret a letter to the North, a courageous rescue attempt ensues that could either compound Solomon's suffering, or get him back to the arms of his family.

    Northup's harrowing first-hand account was authenticated from decades of research by Dr. Sue Eakin, who rediscovered the original narrative in 1931 and made it her life's work. Dr. Eakin's e-book includes the original narrative, plus over 100 pages of fascinating new background information, photos and custom maps. A special copyrighted map created by Dr. Eakin that plots the plantations mentioned in the story accompanies our audiobook, narrated by Academy Award winner Louis Gossett, Jr., and can be downloaded free of charge from our page at Audible.com (an Amazon company).