Solomon Northup awoke in the middle of an April night in 1841 with his body trembling, his head throbbing, and a terrifying question in his mind: Where was he? He slowly realized that he was in a dark, dank, foul-smelling dungeon in Washington, D.C. Worse yet, he was in handcuffs and his feet were chained to the floor.
As his head cleared, Solomon managed to slip a hand into his trousers pocket, where he had placed his money and his “free papers” for safekeeping. They were gone! He checked his other pockets and found no trace of the money or the papers that proved he was one of 400,000 “free blacks” in a nation where 2.5 million African Americans were slaves.
“There must have been some mistake,” Solomon told him- self. Any second now the two white men he had been traveling with would arrive to free him. But as the night wore on, he began to wonder whether these seemingly friendly men could have betrayed him.
The rising sun revealed that Solomon was in a cell with only one small window covered by thick iron bars. Soon he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. A key turned in a lock, the heavy iron door swung open, and two men entered the room where Solomon was chained.
“Well, my boy, how do you feel now?” asked one of the men, who Solomon later learned was named James Birch.
Solomon, who was 32 years old, wasn’t accustomed to being called “boy,” which was a demeaning way of addressing male slaves regardless of age. “What is the cause of my imprisonment?” Solomon demanded.
“I have bought you, and you are my slave.”
Excerpted from Stolen into Slavery by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin. Copyright © 2012 by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin. Excerpted by permission of National Geographic Children's Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.