9. Solomon Northup
Solomon Northup, the author of the famous book Twelve Years a Slave, disappeared without trace in 1857. His book, made into an Oscar winning-film in 2013, recounts the true story of his kidnapping and subsequent sale into slavery. His treatment under the brutal Edwin Epps makes especially difficult reading. Northup’s book was an immediate success, selling 30,000 copies in the first two years.
After his escape, Northup was said to have worked on the Underground Railroad, aiding other slaves to escape, and spent much time unsuccessfully trying to bring a suit against his kidnappers. In Washington, DC, Northup was not allowed to testify in the case because he was black. He was later allowed to file the suit in New York, but after a number of delays, the case was dropped.
He embarked upon a speaking tour in Canada in 1857 and never returned home. He was never heard from again, though a letter written in 1863 claimed he was alive. A number of theories have been proposed as to what happened to him: that he became a spy for the Union Army and was captured and killed, that he was kidnapped and made a slave again, or that he had just wandered away and died where no one knew him and is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere.
Whatever happened to Solomon Northup, he made a contribution to the abolition of slavery and the conscience of the United States and the rest of the world that lived long after him.