Much has been made of the movie “Twelve Years a Slave,” but I haven’t offered an opinion on it, largely because I have yet to see it (trying to complete several manuscripts leaves a mark on one’s time). However, I’m well aware of the book, which you can access online here.
One can turn to page 184 to read about the slaves owned by Edwin Epps, and one will find this description:
Epps remained on Huff Power two years, when, having accumulated a considerable sum of money, he expended it in the purchase of the plantation on the east bank of Bayou Boeuf, where he still continues to reside. He took possession of it in 1845, after the holidays were passed. He carried thither with him nine slaves, all of whom, except myself, and Susan, who has since died, remain there yet. He made no addition to this force, and for eight years the following were my companions in his quarters, viz: Abram, Wiley, Phebe, Bob, Henry, Edward, and Patsey. All these, except Edward, born since, were purchased out of a drove by Epps during the time he was overseer for Archy B. Williams, whose plantation is situated on the shore of Red River, not far from Alexandria.
Abram was tall, standing a full head above any common man. He is sixty years of age, and was born in Tennessee. Twenty years ago, he was purchased by a trader, carried into South Carolina, and sold to James Buford, of Williamsburgh county, in that State. In his youth he was renowned for his great strength, but age and unremitting toil have somewhat shattered his powerful frame and enfeebled his mental faculties.
Wiley is forty-eight. He was born on the estate, of William Tassle, and for many years took charge of that gentleman’s ferry over the Big Black River, in South Carolina.
Phebe was a slave of Buford, Tassle’s neighbor, and having married Wiley, he bought the latter, at her instigation. Buford was a kind master, sheriff of the county, and in those days a man of wealth.
Bob and Henry are Phebe’s children, by a former husband, their father having been abandoned to give place to Wiley. That seductive youth had insinuated himself into Phebe’s affections, and therefore the faithless spouse had gently kicked her first husband out of her cabin door. Edward had been born to them on Bayou Huff Power.
Patsey is twenty-three—also from Buford’s plantation. She is in no wise connected with the others, but glories in the fact that she is the offspring of a “Guinea nigger,” brought over to Cuba in a slave ship, and in the course of trade transferred to Buford, who was her mother’s owner.
That seems rather interesting … and it gets even more interesting when one turns to this lesson plan that includes an image from the 1850 federal slave census:
As Susan had died, there were eight slaves left (including Northrup). Yet this schedule does not easily match at first glance with Northrup’s description of Epps’s slaves.
Your mission is to figure out why and what this says about Northrup’s narrative.