Research Exercise: Twelve Years a Slave … Edwin Epps’s Slaves

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:

Epps 1850 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.

58 thoughts on “Research Exercise: Twelve Years a Slave … Edwin Epps’s Slaves

  1. Ned B November 12, 2013 / 9:50 am

    The ages seem not to match. And then there is the 2 year old…

    Read what Northrop says about Patsey on page 189. Perhaps that is a clue to where the 2 year old came from.

  2. Jefferson Moon November 12, 2013 / 10:37 am

    Was there a tax on slaves,not listing slaves to avoid taxes ??

  3. Tony November 12, 2013 / 12:37 pm

    The 2 year old would be included in the record above Edwin Epps.

      • Ned B November 12, 2013 / 11:07 pm

        Ahh, I see that now. So the only issue is the ages.

  4. Michael Confoy November 12, 2013 / 3:37 pm

    Not sure if the older slaves could be that certain about their true age.

    • Dan Weinfeld November 13, 2013 / 11:54 am

      Correct. They probably were not certain, but why assume the ages reported in the census were accurate either? I’m sure the census taker not was interviewing the slaves individually, but was probably getting the information from the owner or overseer. It could be in the owner’s interest to lower the ages of adult slaves to enhance their sale/trade value, especially when slaves were used as collateral for loans.

      • SF Walker November 19, 2013 / 5:14 am

        Good point–the census records are full of inaccuracies. If the owner or overseer wasn’t available, the census taker would interview any family member who happened to be present. That person wouldn’t necessarily know the exact ages of the slaves.

  5. BorderRuffian November 12, 2013 / 5:29 pm

    I don’t recall a two year old.

    Here are the slaves who, according to the book, were with Northrup from 1845 to 1853-

    Abram-60
    Wiley-48
    Phebe- Wife of Wiley. No age given. Described as “old.”
    Patsey-23
    Henry-23
    Bob-20
    Edward-13

    Another named Susan died during that period.

    Solomon Northrup was over 40 years old.

    So you have at least three and probably four over the age of 40.

    • Rob Baker November 24, 2013 / 12:26 pm

      Which means that the Census is inaccurate, given Solomon’s age when compared to the census.

      • BorderRuffian November 24, 2013 / 6:24 pm

        RB-
        “Which means that the Census is inaccurate…”

        If you count the book as accurate.

        • Rob Baker December 1, 2013 / 11:55 am

          No, there are numerous factors reinforcing the census as being inaccurate.

          • BorderRuffian December 2, 2013 / 7:16 am

            Might there be any factors to reinforce the idea that Solomon’s story has a good many embellishments, inventions and exaggerations in it?

          • Rob Baker December 2, 2013 / 10:28 am

            Sure, but that’s not what we are concentrating on at this time, we are concentrating on ages of slaves in captivity, of which we know the census is wrong because Solomon himself is at least 40 years of age when the census was taken.

          • trayNTP (@trayNTP) January 27, 2014 / 5:35 pm

            Go kill yourself, bigot.

            Anyone with a brain knows that the slaves weren’t responsible for knowing their own ages.

          • Brooks D. Simpson January 27, 2014 / 6:09 pm

            “Go kill yourself”?

            Really … no need for that. Let’s stay away from that sort of talk.

        • Mark Bahner February 17, 2014 / 7:05 pm

          The 1850 Census lists the oldest male at the Epps plantation as 40 years old, whereas Solomon Northup, by his own account, was 42 at the time. And Northup states that there were two male slaves (Abram and Wiley) older than he.

          Rob Baker wrote, “Which means that the Census is inaccurate, given Solomon’s age when compared to the census.”

          You replied, “If you count the book as accurate.”

          I don’t understand this comment. Are you implying:

          1) Solomon Northup wasn’t at the Epps plantation in 1850?

          2) Solomon Northup lied in his book about being born in July 1808…which would make him 42 during the Census in October 1850?

          Or is there some other possibility I’ve missed? If Solomon Northup (aka, Platt) was on the Epps plantation in October 1850, and he was born in July 1808, then he was definitely 42 years old in October 1850. So the Census was clearly wrong about his age, was it not?

          And if the Census was clearly wrong about Northup’s age, and he says that there were two slaves older than he, isn’t the most logical assumption that the Census was wrong about the age of the two other slaves that he says were older than he (Abram and Wiley)?

      • Ken Noe November 25, 2013 / 10:05 am

        Anyone who’s worked with the census enough knows that it’s full of sloppy inaccuracies. In 1840, for example, the census taker completely misspelled my family’s name. People within the same year disappear from one schedule to another. But the larger question is why anyone would assume that a memoir has to be completely accurate anyway, especially when written by a man who was not allowed to keep notes during a decade in slavery. One of the first things we teach new History majors is that all primary sources are imperfect and contain inaccuracies and bias. Nothing I see here calls into question the basic facts of the narrative. It’s as if we were all to write memoirs, and mine was to be thrown out as a lie because I thought I wore a yellow shirt on January 1, 2001 when in fact it was blue. But to be fair, this is hardly a single case. Some folks I notice are quick to charge intentional deceit when a dying man in constant pain got facts wrong and showed his human frailties when discussing events two decades earlier.

        • James F. Epperson December 2, 2013 / 9:23 am

          Thinking of anything in particular with that last sentence, Prof Noe? 😉

        • trayNTP (@trayNTP) January 27, 2014 / 5:35 pm

          Only bigots don’t understand that when it comes to a slave narrative.

  6. Rob Baker November 13, 2013 / 10:25 am

    Well, this is all based on the statements of Epps and the Census taker. In 1850 Solomon was 42 years old. This leads me to believe that somebody is lying about the ages of their slaves. Which means either, Epps did not care and just gave numbers at random; or he is lying for a purpose.

  7. BorderRuffian November 13, 2013 / 3:57 pm

    Federal census records were not involved in the sale of slaves or their taxation.

      • BorderRuffian November 24, 2013 / 6:27 pm

        Census instructions. Information obtained to be confidential.

        If you have evidence they were used in the sale of slaves or their taxation please show us.

        • Rob Baker December 3, 2013 / 6:33 pm

          I never implied they were so stop with the straw man argument. You made the initial statement, how about you prove your argument rather than asking others to disprove you.

  8. BorderRuffian November 15, 2013 / 9:48 am

    Another inaccuracy in Twelve Years a Slave-

    “There was but one greater savage on Bayou Boeuf than [Epps]. Jim Burns’ plantation was cultivated, as already mentioned, exclusively by women. That barbarian kept their backs so sore and raw, that they could not perform the customary labor demanded daily of the slave.”…&c (p184)

    Burns was a close neighbor to Epps. According to the 1850 census lived only a few houses from Epps. So, Burns did exist but he didn’t have a plantation “cultivated…exclusively by women.”

    James Burns, Avoyelles Parish, LA
    # of slaves from census records-

    Year……..Total……..Male………Female
    1840……..14…………8…………..6
    1850……..9…………..5…………..4
    1860……..8…………..6…………..2

    • Rob Baker November 24, 2013 / 12:25 pm

      Plausible explanations? Or do you just seek to deconstruct? Solomon is extremely limited in his interactions on the plantation. Meaning that he only sees what is brought to him, or what he is allowed to see.

      • BorderRuffian November 24, 2013 / 6:29 pm

        Federal census records.

        • Rob Baker December 1, 2013 / 11:54 am

          Of which there are tens of thousands, be more specific.

          • BorderRuffian December 2, 2013 / 7:32 am

            This is from Ancestry.com for the 1850 record-

            Description-
            Township: Avoyelles

            Source Information-
            Ancestry.com. 1850 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.
            Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Seventh Census of the United States, 1850. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1850. M432, 1,009 rolls.

          • Rob Baker December 3, 2013 / 6:34 pm

            Great, but you still did not answer the original counter argument.

  9. BorderRuffian November 18, 2013 / 4:15 pm

    “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….

    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.”

    *

    James Buford (sheriff) and William Tassle, Williamsburg District, SC

    Neither found in census records.

  10. BorderRuffian November 18, 2013 / 4:27 pm

    Problems with the Patsey timeline-

    “Patsey had been a favorite when a child, even in the great house. She had been petted and admired for her uncommon sprightliness and pleasant disposition. She had been fed many a time, so Uncle Abram said, even on biscuit and milk, when the madam, in her younger days, was wont to call her to the piazza, and fondle her as she would a playful kitten.” (p198)

    Other parts of the book indicate she became a slave of the Epps at about age 15.

      • BorderRuffian November 24, 2013 / 6:36 pm

        12 Years a Slave. Compare info on pages 185-186 to page 198.

        • Rob Baker December 1, 2013 / 11:54 am

          Of which book, published in which year. Learn how to cite things.

          • BorderRuffian December 2, 2013 / 7:33 am

            1853

    • Mark Bahner February 17, 2014 / 7:18 pm

      “Problems with the Patsey timeline-”

      “Patsey had been a favorite when a child, even in the great house. She had been petted and admired for her uncommon sprightliness and pleasant disposition. She had been fed many a time, so Uncle Abram said, even on biscuit and milk, when the madam, in her younger days, was wont to call her to the piazza, and fondle her as she would a playful kitten.” (p198)

      “Other parts of the book indicate she became a slave of the Epps at about age 15.”

      What “parts of the book indicate she became a slave of the Epps at about age 15”?

      Per the Census and the book, she was approximately age 19 or 20 in October 1850 (the date of the Census). Northup was purchased by Epps circa 1844. So she would have been 13 or 14 when Northup was purchased by Epps. But Patsey and the others (including Abram) had been purchased by Epps well before Northup was purchased by Epps. So what part of the book do you think indicated she was purchased by Epps at “about age 15”?

  11. BorderRuffian November 20, 2013 / 5:34 pm

    This is from an article about the Northrup case that came out before the book was published.
    Described as “a more complete and authentic record than has yet appeared”-

    “…a coloured girl belonging to Eppes, about 17 years of age, went one Sunday without the permission of her master, to the nearest plantation, about half a mile distant, to visit another colored girl of her acquaintance. She returned in the course of two or three hours, and for that offence she was called up for punishment, which Solomon was required to inflict. Eppes compelled him to drive four stakes into the ground at such distances that the hands and ancles of the girl might be tied to them, as she lay with her face upon the ground; and having thus fastened her down, he compelled him while standing by himself, to inflict one hundred lashes upon her bare flesh, she being stripped naked. Having inflicted the hundred blows, Solomon refused to proceed any further. Eppes tried to compel him to go on, but he absolutely set him at defiance and refused to murder the girl. Eppes then seized the whip and applied it till he was too weary to continue. Blood flowed from her neck to her feet, and in this condition she was compelled the next day to go in to work as a field hand. She bears the marks still upon her body, although the punishment was inflicted four years ago.”

    -from New York Times, January 20, 1853
    http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/northup/support1.html

    from 12 Years a Slave-

    “When I had struck her as many as thirty times, I stopped, and turned round toward Epps, hoping he was satisfied; but with bitter oaths and threats, he ordered me to continue. I inflicted ten or fifteen blows more. By this time her back was covered with long welts, intersecting each other like net work. Epps was yet furious and savage as ever, demanding if she would like to go to Shaw’s again, and swearing he would flog her until she wished she was in h–l. Throwing down the whip, I declared I could punish her no more. He ordered me to go on, threatening me with a severer flogging than she had received, in case of refusal. My heart revolted at the inhuman scene, and risking the consequences, I absolutely refused to raise the whip. He then seized it himself, and applied it with ten-fold greater force than I had.” (pages 256-257)

    In the article he delivers 100 lashes. In the book it’s less than 50.

    “We laid her on some boards in the hut, where she remained a long time, with eyes closed and groaning in agony. At night Phebe applied melted tallow to her wounds, and so far as we were able, all endeavored to assist and console her. Day after day she lay in her cabin upon her face, the sores preventing her resting in any other position.” (page 258)

    In the article she is sent out to work in the fields the next day.
    In the book she is in the cabin for several days.

    I suppose if Northrup told this tale 10 different times we would have 10 different versions.

    • Rob Baker November 24, 2013 / 12:22 pm

      This is a second hand account and not Northup’s words. Your conclusions are faulty.

      • BorderRuffian November 24, 2013 / 6:21 pm

        from article/next to last paragraph-

        “These statements regarding the condition of SOLOMON while with EPPES, and the punishment and brutal treatment of the colored girls, are taken from SOLOMON himself…”

        • Rob Baker December 1, 2013 / 11:56 am

          Again, second hand accounts taken from Solomon.

          • BorderRuffian December 2, 2013 / 7:11 am

            Solomon related his tale verbally to the NYT writer (article) and to David Wilson (book). The only difference is that Wilson said Solomon assisted in the preparation of the manuscript.

            The significant changes in the story is an indication that the whipping scene is not true.

          • Rob Baker December 2, 2013 / 10:30 am

            The difference is that one is a second hand account, and the other is a narrative edited by another man. Regardless, both accounts refer to a whipping what you question is the brutality that takes place. That does not dismiss the “whipping scene” as untrue but draws into question the severity. Your propensity towards dismissal is quite telling about your agenda though.

          • MsKelley January 30, 2014 / 9:24 am

            The big differences are 1) Northup had no editorial control over the reporter’s article 2) the reporter was writing a story with a deadline and 3) the man was just rescued from a traumatic situation.

            Here is a description of his collaboration with David Wilson from the editors preface written by David Wilson –
            “Many of the statements contained in the following pages are corroborated by abundant evidence—others rest entirely upon Solomon’s assertion. That he has adhered strictly to the truth, the editor, at least, who has had an opportunity of detecting any contradiction or discrepancy in his statements, is well satisfied. He has invariably repeated the same story without deviating in the slightest particular, and has also carefully perused the manuscript, dictating an alteration wherever the most trivial inaccuracy has appeared.”

            I suspect that Epps whipped or had slaves whipped numerous times. Solomon Northup on the heels of rescue may have jumbled the details of several whippings visited upon Patsey by Epps. The man was rescued from 12 years of hell thought he would never see his family again. At that point it still must have seemed surreal.

  12. BorderRuffian November 21, 2013 / 8:55 am

    A response to the NYT article.

    Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), February 6, 1853-

    “The Avoyelles-Slave Case.

    The N. Y. Times of the 20th inst. has a long article upon the subject of the kidnapping of the free negro man Solomon Northrop, who was sold in Washington City as a slave, by a man named Burch, to a trader who brought him to this city, where he was again sold, and after passing through various hands he bacame the property of Mr. Eppes, of Avoyelles parish. It appears from the memoir in the Times that he was held in captivity eleven years, but finally a letter from him reached some of his friends in New York, who took immediate measures to have him released. A Mr. Henry B. Northrop procured the necessary documents from the Governor of New York and proceeded to Washington City, where he explained the matter and exhibited the proofs of his statement to the Hon. Pierre Soule, Mr. Conrad, the Secretary of War, and Judge Nelson, of the Supreme Court of the United States. These gentlemen furnished Mr. N. with strong letters of recommendation to their friends in Louisiana, and so provided he came to this city, proceeded to Avoyelles parish, found the alleged slave, and upon examination of the proofs of his freedom Mr. Eppes at once surrendered him. On returning to Washington City the slave trader Burch, was arrested and examined on a charge of kidnapping, but he proved that he had purchased Solomon from two men, and was acquitted.

    Speaking of the manner on which Mr. Northrop was received by the people and authorities of this State, the Times says:

    It is but justice to say that the authorities of Avoyelles, and indeed at New Orleans, rendered all the assistance in their power to secure the establishment of the freedom of this unfortunate man, who had been snatched so villainously from the land of freedom and compelled to undergo sufferings almost inconceivable in this land of heathenism, where slavery exists with features more revolting than those described in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’

    The last remark is corroborated by some interesting anecdotes given by Solomon regarding his treatment during the time he was in the service of Mr. Eppes, and certainly he has not forgotten to spread the horrors on pretty thick. He tells of a slave girl who, for a trivial offence, was tied to four stakes driven in the ground, and in that position lashed almost to death. She was lacerated from head to foot, and her body covered with blood, and notwithstanding was compelled to work in the field. That girl must have been a miracle of physical endurance. One would think her master would hardly be so reckless of his property, to say nothing of the claims of humanity, as Solomon represents him to have been, but we suppose the latter knew he had credulous hearers, who would not relish his tales unless they were spiced with the horrible. It is rather strange, though, that such papers as the Times should publish such silly and unfounded tales, but it only shows the avidity with which Northern abolitionism grasps at anything to sustain its dangerous agitation.”

    • Rob Baker November 24, 2013 / 12:41 pm

      Is there really any doubt that a LA paper would print such a retraction?

    • Mark Bahner February 16, 2014 / 9:26 pm

      “She was lacerated from head to foot, and her body covered with blood, and notwithstanding was compelled to work in the field. That girl must have been a miracle of physical endurance. One would think her master would hardly be so reckless of his property, to say nothing of the claims of humanity, as Solomon represents him to have been, but we suppose the latter knew he had credulous hearers, who would not relish his tales unless they were spiced with the horrible. It is rather strange, though, that such papers as the Times should publish such silly and unfounded tales,..”

      So did the Times-Picayune bother to, you know, actually *investigate* the incident? Like, possibly, *interview* Epps or Patsey? Apparently, that would be too much like a real newspaper…

      P.S. I have a lot of respect for the Times-Picayune reporting on Katrina. Needless to say, they’re not the same paper they were more than 150 years ago…

  13. Brooks D. Simpson November 25, 2013 / 4:39 pm

    Here’s evidence of how clueless some people can be …

    “Aside from the fact that Border Ruffian’s research casts doubts on what should be a deliciously potent tool for evilizing white Southerners, it appears that nobody in the floggerette peanut gallery noticed these glaring inconsistencies in Northrup’s narrative, preferring to speculate on the nefarious motives of slave owner Epps.”

    The initial post to which BR/B responded highlighted a glaring inconsistency, and BR/B’s initial post simply repeated that information. That someone couldn’t figure that out (and misrepresented what followed) suggests that (1) someone’s extremely stupid (2) someone’s extremely dishonest (3) some combination of (1) and (2).

    Clearly, I would not post BR/B’s comments were they not raising some issues. Yet BR/B doesn’t understand this, either, claiming:

    “The Floggers hate the charge of political correctness (btw a term invented by the Left) but this is a prime example of it – they don’t dare criticize the book or the film. They don’t dare.”

    Sigh. It’s all a plot.

  14. Brooks D. Simpson November 25, 2013 / 4:48 pm

    I am amused at how the exchanges here are misrepresented elsewhere, using the favorite tactic of “I sent a reply, although I don’t know whether it will be posted” (I’ve seen supposed replies posted elsewhere that were never submitted to this blog, but I understand that some people just need to lie).

    So here we go … BR/B elsewhere:

    BorderRuffian said…

    Baker-
    I found holes in all of his arguments. I do not know if Simpson has posted them, but they are simply.

    1.) he misrepresented a source.

    No, it was you that misrepresented the source.

    2.) he posts census records carelessly without scrutiny.

    I’ve been researching census records longer than you’ve been alive.

    He supposes Solomon lies about the ages of the slaves in his book, because the census lists no slaves over 40.

    Good reason. The census record is an official document with penalties for recording or giving false information. What would you call the book?

    He fails to acknowledge Solomon is over 40, and is listed under 40on the census.

    Names of the Epps slaves are not given.

    3.) His other arguments are non-consequential, because they are predictable. They cast no doubt on the story.

    -a ridiculous assessment.
    November 25, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    Note that this declaration is dated November 25. Note that BR/B’s contributions here end November 24. In short, the material was posted, but he claimed he didn’t know. We know he knows how to check.

    Talk about a ridiculous assessment.

    Now, here’s the question: BR/B’s claimed that we can’t trust Northrup’s narrative because of inconsistencies and misstatements. Yet here (and elsewhere) I’ve documented BR/B’s inconsistencies and misstatements. Should we apply BR/B’s own logic to his own posts and claims?

  15. Bill Hunt December 12, 2013 / 11:27 am

    I was born in 1934 in Bunkie, LA. Around 1936, my father became overseer on a sugarcane plantation where Solomon Northup lived those twelve years. While growing up, plantations operated much as they had been before the Civil War, except workers were paid around $3.25 for a 10 hour day. My father retired in 1959 to 40 acres that we believe was part of Edwin Epps Plantation. At the time, the house Solomon Northup built for Epps was still standing on the bank of Bayou Bouef (pronounced Beff), about 300 yards West. I played in that house in 1948 when my dad bought the 40 acres, and my two sons played in it in the 1960s before it was moved to the town of Bunkie, and later to LSU-Alexandria Campus. My own book (a fictionalized memoir, narrative) written in the voice of a 12 year old boy on a Central Louisiana plantation correlates to the venues in Solomon’s book, and borders into the attitudes regarding Black and White issues as they were a hundred years after Northup’s book was written. My father was a tough taskmaster, but his veiw in the 30s, 40s and 50s of Black field hands living in the plantation Quarters was to keep them well and satisfied as possible because of dire need for “laborers” willing to work in the fields of sugarcane and cotton. Having lived and seen “plantation life” in the middle of the past century; having studied Northup’s book, and watched the movie, I recognize many of the horrors of the past, however bad or unbelievable they may have been, but I also recognize other forms of “slavery” today that obliterates a persons freedom from domination. Bill Hunt, “The Last Witness From a Dirt Road.”

  16. MsKelley January 30, 2014 / 10:10 am

    As I read this blog and the responses. I just wanted to add a couple of points to this discussion.

    1 – Census records were taken by US Marshalls in 1850. By the time the 1860 Census was taken by the US Marshalls were empowered to hire and train assistants to assist with census taking. When going door-to-door Census takers used forms or blank paper in the field when conducting interviews. Then the taker compiled the records onto the pre-printed forms at a later time. Census takers were required to make another copy to be submitted to the Federal Government. Knowing that the Census was gathered by Marshalls may have also had an impact on the information shared by slave owners.

    2- This was a time that there was no uniform system for keeping vital records. Births and deaths were not recorded or maintained by most states until the 20th century. Birth records were not common until after WWII.

    3 – Methods of information gathering impact impression of age. The census taker probably spoke to a member of the family (the head of household, wife, or older child). Then the notes taken during the door-to-door interview were later transcribed onto the pre-printed forms filled out for that enumeration district. The census taker may never have seen/spoken to the slaves on the Epps plantation.
    http://www.martygrant.com/genealogy/reference/censuserrors.htm

    Solomon knew and lived with the people listed and may have gone on what they communicated or guessed their ages. We also have to consider how nutrition and health (given the way Epps ran his plantation) contribute to the perception of age for Solomon and other observers.

    4- Georgetown History Professor Adam Rothman recently re-discovered a diary written by Civil war solider John B. Burrud while doing research at the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. His diary does support Solomon’s account.
    http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2014/01/uncovered-diary-solomon-northup

    • Angela March 8, 2014 / 5:58 pm

      Ages on census records are often wrong. I am a genealogist and ages can be off by 10 years from one census to the other. An overseer of a small plantation like this probably had no concern or desire to know the exact age of a slave. For that matter most slaves and owners didn’t know an exact age, especially of a slave purchased and not born on the plantation. Census takers talked to whomever was present to talk to. Also, if a slave had been hired out at the time and staying elsewhere, they wouldn’t be counted in his slave count.

      I also read with horror on here the way people seem to want to think that slave owners wouldn’t have beat their slaves because they needed them. Well, that was true of a prudent man but power corrupts and what more power could one have than actually owning another human being? There are plenty of records that show the violence that took place towards slaves. But, you have to want to know the truth, not to hide from it. I’m from the south, some of my ancestors owned slaves. I can’t defend them and I try not to condemn them but it is stupidity to act like slavery wasn’t as bad as it was. I know there were slave owners who were not like Epps, plenty of them, probably the majority were not like that but there were men like him and plantations ran like that.

      • John Foskett March 9, 2014 / 11:18 am

        IIt’ not just a matter of “power corrupts”, either. Anybody with a large complement of slaves needed to make sure that “discipline” and “order” were preserved. If whipping one recalcitrant within an inch of his life could cause 10-20 others decided to “mind Master”, it was probably a worthwhile investment from a “management” standpoint.

  17. Mark Bahner February 16, 2014 / 8:09 pm

    “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.”

    OK, here’s my analysis. He named 7 people as “my companions”:

    1) Abram, 60.
    2) Wiley, 48. Husband of Phebe.
    3) Phebe…no age given, but mother of three sons:
    4) Bob
    5) Henry
    6) Edward, and finally
    7) Patsey, 23.

    Presumably, he was giving their ages at the time of his book, which was 1853. So subtract 3 years from his ages for the 1850 Census.

    Therefore, I would expect 8 or 9 people in the 1850 Census…those 7, plus Solomon/Platt and possibly Susan (since it’s not clear when she died…only that it’s somewhere between 1845 and 1853).

    And from his account, there would be 6 males and 2 (or 3) females. Further, since Edward was born in Huff Power, he was born before 1845 when Epps moved from Huff Power. So he’s at least 5 years old in 1850.

    So here’s my guess about the Census versus Northrup’s account:

    1) Census: Female, 2 years –>This is not a slave belonging to Epps. That’s clear from the 1850 Census form. She’s the last slave belonging to someone else.
    2) Census: Male, 40 years–> Possibly Abram, who would have actually been 57 in 1950, per Northrup’s account.
    3) Census: Female, 37 years–>My guess is this is Phebe.
    4) Census: Male, 35 years–>Possibly Wiley, who would have actually been 45 in 1950, per Northrup’s account.
    5) Census: Male, 34 years–>Possibly Solomon Northrup. According to Wikipedia, he was born in July 1808, so he actually would have been 41 or 42.
    6) Census: Male, 20 years–>Possibly Bob, Phebe’s oldest son. (Since the Census lists a female at 37, this would potentially mean Phebe gave birth at age 17, which doesn’t seem ridiculous.)
    7) Census: Female, 19 years–>This matches Patsey very well. She would have been 20 years old in 1850, per Northrup’s account of her been 23 (presumably in 1853, when he wrote the book).
    8) Census: Male, 17 years–>Possibly Henry, Phebe’s middle son.
    9) Census: Male, 11 years–>Possibly Edward.

    That’s my analysis. What do *you* think “this says about Northrup’s narrative”?

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