In November 2013 when Melissa Howell, descendent of Solomon Northup was asked to speak at the 2014 Peterboro Emancipation Days, little did anyone suspect that her great, great, great grandfather’s 160 year old biographical book Twelve Years a Slave would win the 2014 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year.
With five producers, including Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt (who also acted in the film) the film, and people associated with it, won many other awards, scooping up members of the current Northup family in the momentum. At 2 p.m. Saturday, August 2 at the Smithfield Community Center (5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY) Howell, her mother Shirley Howell, and her aunt Irene Northup-Zahos will discuss the film, the effects it had on the Northup family, and other experiences and opportunities that have come forth from the film. Howell will proudly display the University of Southern California Scripter Award conferred on Northup as the author of the written work upon which the Academy Award winning screenplay was based. Howell is also the founder of The Solomon Northup Legacy 1808.
Howell’s aunt Irene Northup-Zahos, a retired nurse, is involved in family research and writing – including a publication on her grandfather John Henry “Zip” Northup, a professional Negro League baseball player. At the Solomon Northup Day Celebration of Freedom at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, Zahos unveiled the replacement head stone of Solomon Northup’s father Mintus Northup.
On Sunday, August 3 at 2 p.m. David Fiske, a genealogist and local history researcher who has devoted years of research to Solomon Northup and his family, will present “Rescued from Slavery: The Story of Solomon Northup”. Fiske is author of Solomon Northup: His Life Before and After Slavery, and co-author of the 2013 book Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave.
Northup was a free black man living in Saratoga Springs, NY when in 1841 he was lured away from home and sold as a slave. After twelve years as a slave in Louisiana, Northup was rescued and returned home to New York. After writing a book about his experiences (Twelve Years a Slave) Northup traveled around the Northeast giving speeches on those twelve years. He also helped fugitive slaves escape to Canada. Fiske will include connections of Northup to Central NY, including an early appearance in Syracuse City Hall in 1853 at a commemoration of the Jerry Rescue, and in Mechanics Hall in Utica, as well as information about the New York State law that freed Northup.
These two Solomon Northup afternoon programs are part of the 2014 Peterboro Emancipation Days which begin at 8:00 p.m. August 1st Friday evening at the Smithfield Community Center (Site of the inaugural meeting of the New York State Anti-slavery Society in 1835 at 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY) with a free showing of the 2013 movie 12 Years a Slave with an optional discussion facilitated by Norman K. Dann PhD.
At 10:00 a.m. Saturday, August 2nd the morning reception and registration for 2014 Emancipation Days will begin at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark (5304 Oxbow Road, Peterboro NY 13134). At 10:30 Jim Corpin and Max Smith, co-chairs of the event, will lead the Annual Tent Meeting of announcements, plans, and singing, followed by a procession to the Peterboro Cemetery to lay one wreath at the grave of Gerrit Smith and one wreath at the grave of William Sims, a person born in slavery who died free. Sims was freed from slavery in 1841 when Ann and Gerrit Smith sent an agent to Kentucky to find Harriet Sims Russell, William’s daughter. The Smiths paid for freedom, legal transportation, and support for a new life for Harriet, her father, her husband, and five children. Descendants of William Sims will be at the wreath laying on a new gravestone funded by a generous donor. Thirty-five star flags will be installed at the graves of the African-Americans who served in the Civil War.
At 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, August 3rd at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark Norman K. Dann PhD will lead a discussion on Northup’s autobiography Solomon Northup: Twelve Years a Slave.
The public is encouraged to attend all or parts of 2014 Emancipation Days. Admission to the 2:00 p.m. programs with the Northup family on Saturday and with author Fiske on Sunday is three dollars for adults for benefit of Emancipation Day, and free for students. All other programs are free. For more information on the speakers, Solomon Northup, and Emancipation Days contact: 315-280-8828 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo above: Melissa Howell, great, great, great granddaughter of Solomon Northup.