In this still shot from 12 Years a Slave, we see Solomon Northup (known as “Platt” and portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor) with two of his “masters.” First he worked for William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), then he worked for John Tibeats (Paul Dano) by settlement of a debt Ford owed to Tibeats (plus a $400 mortgage which Tibeats took-out for the excess “value” of his “slave”). Still-shot image online, courtesy Fox Searchlight. Click on it for a better view.
Waiting for the slaves, when they arrived at a New Orleans slave pen, was Theophilus Freeman (a business associate of James Burch). It was he who would convert the chattel into cash.
Washed and prepared for sale, the “slaves” were sold at auction. Despite heartbreaking pleas to keep her family together, Eliza (whose slave name was “Dradey”) and her children were split-up forever.
William Ford bought “Dradey” and “Platt” on the 23rd of June, 1841. Together they traveled, with Ford, to his plantation in the parish of Avoyelles (located northwest of New Orleans).
As “masters” go, Ford was a good one, but he “never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection” (as Northup tells us in his narrative). Ford, however, had a reversal of fortune after serving as a guarantor for his brother (Franklin Ford).
As a result of his financial plight, Ford was forced to give-up Solomon. His new “master” was John M. Tibeats, a harsh man who had built several buildings on the Ford plantation. Because he could not pay Tibeats all he owed, Ford satisfied his debt by giving Solomon to Tibeats.
Because Solomon’s value was greater than the amount of Ford’s debt to Tibeats, however, the “slave” transaction also included a $400 mortgage. Tibeats needed those additional funds in order to fully own “Platt” (Solomon).
While it seems unconscionable that a person could be mortgaged, there is an interesting twist to this part of the story. It was that very mortgage which once saved Northup’s life.
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