Not long before Solomon Northup was thrown into a Washington City slave pen, Alexander Merrill and Joseph Russell plied him with food and drink. It was the last such meal Northup had for a dozen years. Even his name was changed, against his will. Unknown to Northup, his journey into slavery was beginning with the scene depicted in this image. Still shot online, courtesy Fox Searchlight. Click on it for a better view.
From the slave pens of Washington, Solomon (whose slave name was “Platt”) was taken to a slave pen in Richmond. It was managed (Simon says) by a Mr. Goodin, another slave-trader.
The real name of the dealer-in-slaves was likely William Goodwin (who owned a pen at Broad and Union Streets in Shockoe Bottom). From this Virginia town, Northup and the other Burch-purchased slaves boarded a ship called Orleans.
Bound for the Louisiana city of New Orleans, the vessel (carrying people and tobacco) was a “superior coppered and copper fastened brig” (according to an April 16, 1841 article published in the Richmond Whig). En route, the Orleans passengers suffered a tragedy when an outbreak of smallpox sickened several and ended the life of at least one person.
Those who didn’t get sick on the ship became ill in New Orleans, including Solomon (who nearly died). The illness made him blind for three days and pock-marked his face (a disfigurement which seemed to be permanent).
Aboard ship, John Manning (an Englishman serving as a sailor on the Orleans) befriended Solomon. He was stunned to hear the true story of Northup’s betrayal and promised to send a letter (which Solomon would write) after arriving in New Orleans.
Manning made good on his word. Solomon’s letter to Henry B. Northup (of Sandy Hill, New York) reached its intended destination. All Henry knew, however, was that Solomon was on the brig and had reached New Orleans. By the time Henry received the letter, no one in the North knew Solomon’s exact location.
No one would know for another twelve years. Instead, a different fate lay ahead of the man now-known as “Platt.”
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