12 Years a Slave - Bass Helps Platt (Solomon Northup)

Bass Helps Platt (Solomon Northup) (Illustration) American History African American History Civil Rights Ethics Law and Politics Nineteenth Century Life Nonfiction Works Social Studies Slaves and Slave Owners

This image depicts the actual home which Samuel Bass and Solomon Northup worked on together, during 1852, at the Edwin Epps plantation in the Bayou Boeuf area of Louisiana.  The cottage was eventually dismantled and reconstructed on the campus of Louisiana State University at Alexandria.  Image online, courtesy State of Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. 


When he was not working on the Epps plantation, where he was building a cottage for the Epps family, Bass spent time in Marksville, the nearby town where he lived. During August of 1852, he wrote three letters on Solomon’s behalf.

Although he did not see the letters before they were sent, Solomon included one in his narrative. It was the letter which turned his life around:

Bayou Boeuf, August 15, 1852.

Gentlemen—It having been a long time since I have seen or heard from you, and not knowing that you are living, it is with uncertainty that I write to you, but the necessity of the case must be my excuse.

Having been born free, just across the river from you, I am certain you must know me, and I am here now a slave. I wish you to obtain free papers for me, and forward them to me at Marksville, Louisiana, Parish of Avoyelles, and oblige


The way I came to be a slave, I was taken sick in Washington City, and was insensible for some time. When I recovered my reason, I was robbed of my free-papers, and in irons on my way to this State, and have never been able to get any one to write for me until now; and he that is writing for me runs the risk of his life if detected.  (12 Years a Slave, at page 275 of an online version of Northup's book.)

Months passed with no reply to Bass’ letter. On Christmas Eve, 1852, he stopped by the Epps plantation. The next morning Bass had a chance to talk with Solomon.

First he gave Solomon the bad news ... there had been no replies to his letters. Then he gave him the good news ... by April, of 1853, he would have enough money saved to personally make a trip to Saratoga Springs:

“...I've thought this matter all have come to a determination. There are more ways than one to manage this business, and a better and surer way than writing letters. I have a job or two on hand which can be completed by March or April. By that time I shall have a considerable sum of money, and then, Platt, I am going to Saratoga myself."

I could scarcely credit my own senses as the words fell from his lips. But he assured me, in a manner that left no doubt of the sincerity of his intention, that if his life was spared until spring, he should certainly undertake the journey.

"I have lived in this region long enough," he considered; "I may as well be in one place as another. For a long time I have been thinking of going back more to the place where I was born. I'm tired of Slavery as well as you. If I can succeed in getting you away from here, it will be a good act that I shall like to think of all my life. And I shall succeed, Platt; I'm bound to do it.

Now let me tell you what I want. Epps will be up soon, and it won't do to be caught here. Think of a great many men at Saratoga and Sandy Hill, and in that neighborhood, who once knew you. I shall make excuse to come here again in the course of the winter, when I will write down their names. I will then know who to call on when I go north. Think of all you can.

Cheer up! Don't be discouraged. I'm with you, life or death. Good-bye. God bless you...  (12 Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup, at pages 281-2 of an online version of the book.)

Although neither Bass nor Solomon realized it, a plan was already in the works to free Solomon from slavery.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5155stories and lessons created

Original Release: Feb 27, 2014

Updated Last Revision: Jan 10, 2017

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