SARATOGA SPRINGS — This week, city Mayor Meg Kelly read three proclamations. The first honored the legacy of Solomon Northup.
Northup, a free black man living in Saratoga Springs, was in March 1841 tricked by two con artists who had promised him work in New York City but instead transported him further south where he was sold into slavery. It is where he would remain for the next 12 years.
At the time, Northup was 32 years old and lived with his wife, Anne, and their three children in Saratoga Springs - first on Washington Street, then relocating around the block to the United States Hotel. He was engaged in seasonal work at the busy hotels during summers and secured engagements as a violin player during the winter months to make ends meet.
“I was walking about the village of Saratoga Springs, thinking about where I might obtain some present employment…on the corner of Congress Street and Broadway near the tavern still kept by Mr. (C.B.) Moon,” Northup recounted in the book he wrote about those years, titled: “Twelve Year a Slave.”
The strangers promised Northup $1 for each day of service plus $3 per show in addition to cover his traveling expenses back to Saratoga Springs. He was enslaved for 12 years.
Saratoga’s reputation as a resort town had already been established by the mid-1800s. The black population in Saratoga Springs grew from less than 100 in the 1830s to nearly 300 by mid-century. Many were attracted, as Northup was, by the hope of job opportunities.
“I passed the days and nights. I was heart sick and discouraged. Thoughts of my family, of my wife and children, continually occupied my mind. When sleep overpowered me, I dreamed of them - dreamed I was again in Saratoga - that I could see their faces, and hear their voices calling me,” Northup wrote.
Although northern-based blacks were said to be free, many were kidnapped and brought South where they would be sold. In 1800, all of Saratoga County had 358 slaves. By 1810, the figure was 107. At the time of Northup’s abduction 30 years later, census figures list a total of four slaves in the entire state of New York. By comparison, southern states like Georgia showed 280,000; South Carolina more than 320,000 and Virginia recorded nearly a half million slaves among the population in the 1840s.
Solomon Northup Day, launched by local resident Renee Moore, was first designated in Saratoga Springs in 1999. A plaque commemorating Northup was fixed outside the Saratoga Visitors Center on the corner of Congress Street and Broadway.
Northup’s book was published shortly after his release in 1853. In 2013, a film adaptation of Northup’s book, titled “12 Years A Slave,” garnered numerous awards, including an Oscar for Best Picture of the Year.
A second city proclamation honored the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Capital District Transit Authority on Aug. 1 and noted that in its highest ridership year CDTA had secured 17.1 million riders.
A third proclamation expressed appreciation for the work conducted by AIM Services, Inc., who have residential and community-based services to people with disabilities since 1979 in Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties, and was read in advance of next week’s 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.