Born a free man in New York, Northup was drugged and kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery there. He was soon taken with other slaves by ship to New Orleans and sold into further slavery. He eventually came into contact with a Canadian abolitionist, who was able to notify his family of his whereabouts. In 1853, after the intervention of an official agent of the state of New York, he was freed. He filed charges against his kidnappers but after a long trial, the charges were dropped on legal technicalities and Northup was never compensated for his years in slavery. He orally related his story to a New York legislator, David Wilson, who published it in a book titled 12 Years A Slave. The book was published less than a year after Northup’s freedom and it sold over 30,000 copies. He died in 1863.