Anne Hampton Northup, subject of American historian's talk in Westport

Mar. 14—WESTPORT — Anne Hampton Northup's very being is eclipsed by that of her famous husband, Solomon Northup.

He penned the 19th century best-seller, "Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, from a Cotton Plantation near the Red River in Louisiana" (1853).

American Historian Connor Williams illuminates Anne's story in "12 Years A Widow," which will be presented 5 p.m., Tuesday, March 19 at the Westport Library. Suggested donation is $20 to support the library.


Williams, an Adirondack resident, will speak on Anne Northup's life and times, explore how her story aligns with other Black feminists of her age, and encourage further discussions about race and gender in America's past.

"I'm an American historian, and I'm trained in 19th century United States history and African American history," he said.

"That is what my doctoral work is in. There is a sense amongst most people in our nation that historically there were white parts of America and there were Black parts of America for lack of a better phrase, white spaces and Black spaces. Historically, people tend to think of the Adirondacks are a 'white space.' "

Williams wants to encourage folks to reconsider that way of thinking about things.

"Anne Northup's story shows that the Adirondacks were not a white space," he said.

'In fact, there are no white spaces or Black spaces in our national history. If you look hard enough in places, you are going to find people of color, Native Americans, immigrants, just about everywhere in our country from the start. It's not a recent development."


Solomon, a raftsman, carpenter, laborer, fiddler, was an abolitionist born July 10, 1807(8) in the town of Minerva, Essex County. His mother was a free woman of color, one quarter African and three quarters European, according to him. His father, Mintus, was a freedman, once enslaved by the Northup family in Rhode Island and Hoosick, Rensselaer County, when they relocated. Henry Northup manumitted Mintus in his will.

Anne was born March 14, 1808 to free parents. Her father, William, owned property in Washington County and could vote. They self-identified as people of native, Black and white ancestry, and they lived in Sandy Hill, now Hudson Falls.

Solomon and Anne married on Christmas Day in 1829, and they had three children: Elizabeth born in 1831, Margaret born in 1833 and Alonzo born in 1836.

In 1834, both Solomon and Anne worked at the United States Hotel in Saratoga Springs.

"So I think that the Anne Hampton Northup story shows us that the idea that the Adirondacks were a white space is both not true and true," Williams said.

"It's not true in that if you look a little closely and do the hard work of research, you find that Anne Hampton and Solomon Northup, not to mention the individuals who settled in North Elba as part of Timbuctoo, there have always been African Americans in the Adirondacks. It's a big part of it.

"But it is also in a way true in that traditionally the Adirondacks, New York state itself, has not been particularly hospitable to African Americans. The Convention of 1821 made it harder for African Americans to vote, virtually impossible for many of them."

Blacks were only about 2% of the entire 'northern' population of African Americans until after the Civil War.

"So I see this as a way to both celebrate an incredibly inspiring story of a woman keeping her family together while her husband was kidnapped and enslaved, and also to encourage folks to remember the past as it really unfolded and not as we kind of wished it would have unfolded," Williams said.

Solomon was a first-rate hustler, but Anne's culinary prowess secured her employment at the elite hotels such a the Pavilion Hotel.

"She apprenticed in her youth and her teen years cooking in kitchens," Williams said.

"For lack of a better phrase, education, was essentially out to her. She apprenticed and learned a skill in a field where African Americans had a certain amount of market share, and then she met Solomon. and I believe in her late teens married, and then they traveled around to Troy, to the Champlain Canal, Saratoga to Minerva. They were kind of all around the the southern Adirondacks if you will, southeastern Adirondacks to be quite precise."


Williams' presentation comes on the heels of Black History Month and during Women's History Month.

"So, it seemed like a good time to go thinking about this," he said.

"The other thing that struck me is both as a scholar, but also as an American, as husband and a father, there is something about 12 Years A Slave. I'm so glad that movie is out. That it shows the horrors of enslavement in its true brutality and philosophy. It's incredibly powerful. As it focuses on Solomon, and the book focuses on Solomon, understandably because he's the one who wrote it and his experiences, his wife is a character who is essentially paused in time. She disappears in 1841 when he's kidnapped, and she reappears in 1853 when he is returned."

When he was kidnapped, Anne secures a post with Eliza Jumel, and she and her three children go to live with the wealthy socialite in a Manhattan mansion, known today as the Morris-Jumel Mansion, according to

"The film does this incredible powerful thing where he leaves his family to go on this tour from which he is kidnapped. His kids are young and his wife is young," Williams said.

"He returns, and he has gray hair and the scars of enslavement. His kids are young adults in their late teens, early 20s. It's a very powerful scene in the movie, but of course, time didn't stand still during those 12 years Solomon Northup was kidnapped and enslaved. What the film doesn't do is show the incredible audacity and effort that Anne Northup took to keep her family together. Keep her kids fed and educated. Keep a paycheck coming in as a single parent in a time when there were no services whatsoever to assist."

When Solomon returned, Anne was working at a Glens Falls hotel.

Williams has not yet visited the Morris-Jumel Mansion, where Anne kept her family intact during Solomon's absence.

"I hope to do more with that research to see some of these spaces," he said.

"This is very much a work-in-progress. I think the one other thing that strikes me about this that it is very important to do and you find in other studies of enslavement and women's history is there used to be this old idea that because there's not many documents from women during these time periods and from enslaved people, you really can't write their history.

"We would like to be able to write it, we would like to be able to know it, but they didn't leave any archival sources so we just can't write it. Of course, that is false in so many ways, and some ways it normalizes the ways they are prohibited from leaving sources from being part of society.

"So a project like this is by definition slightly creative. You have to think about history in a slightly different way, but in a way that is, again, much more accurate to the past as it unfolded."

Where Solomon or Anne are buried is not known. Anne died on August 8, 1876 in Moreau.

"She seems to have passed away literally at work in her 60s one day," Williams said.

"Solomon after he returned, he wrote this book, he had a speaking circuit, but he was essentially suffering from PTSD, which makes sense given his life. He abused alcohol seemingly and vanished apart from the family. This is one of the times where the past doesn't always tell us exactly what we would hope it would. But I have yet to make my final notes and where she is buried would be a key part."

Williams hopes that people will leave his lecture having a renewed understanding.

"That clearly women and African Americans didn't become political actors in 1919 and 1965 or whatever date you want to choose, but that they have been a part of the body politic from day one, and that we have to think about them as part of the body politic in day one," he said.

"That last part is an effort that we should all be taking to care about our history for our daughters and granddaughters, friends and neighbors, and fellow citizens."