Tucked away in a residential block off Route 4 in Hudson Falls is tiny Baker Cemetery. A huge oak tree shades scattered headstones, weather-worn and grainy, most of their inscriptions dating to the 1800s gone to the ravages of time and neglect.
Now, a striking exception to these stones is the granite marker for Mintus Northup, the father of Solomon Northup. A marker was unveiled Saturday marked the culmination of over a year’s effort by Mintus’ great-great granddaughter, Irene Zahos of Rochester. It was one of two events in Washington County celebrating the life of Solomon Northup, which dovetailed events held for 16th annual Solomon Northup Day in Saratoga Springs.
Zahos originally visited the gravesite in May 2013. “For me, emotionally, it was an epiphany in finding a relative who had died long ago, but who is alive in family lore and in books,” she said.
Working with Paul Loding, Hudson Falls town historian, Paul McCarty, Fort Edward town historian and director of the Old Fort Museum, and stone mason Dan Gereau, among others, Zahos determined the original headstone, which was broken with a piece missing, was irreparable.
“When you’re talking about a personal gravestone, something that belongs to a family, it’s necessary that the family take the initiative to undertake the project to replace the stone,” McCarty said. “It’s not necessarily that the historical society walks into the cemetery and takes it over. Irene was ready to do that.”
The new marker was commissioned to Loiselle Memorials of Hudson Falls and unveiled in a ceremony attended by about 50 people including an array of descendants of Mintus and Solomon Northup. Also in attendance was actress Devyn Tyler, who portrayed Solomon’s adult daughter in the film “12 Years a Slave,” which brought national attention to Solomon’s story.
“I’m a big fan of the history that’s behind the story here,” she said. “And a lot of hard work,” chimed in Zahos.
An often understated hero of Solomon’s story was Henry B. Northup, an attorney in Hudson Falls, who navigated the political waters and ultimately obtained Solomon’s freedom from the slavery he had been sold into. Following the Baker Cemetery dedication, a plaque was unveiled in Hudson Falls’ Union Cemetery honoring Henry’s historical work.
Solomon’s original memoir was published in 1853. In the early 1960s, Louisiana historians Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon rediscovered the book and began researching and retracing Solomon’s journey, culminating in a historically annotated version which was published in 1968. Eakin’s daughter, Sara Eakin Kuhn of Tennessee, was also in attendance at the dedication.
“It was a remarkable thing he did,” said Eakin Kuhn of Henry B. Northup. “He traveled thousands of miles in a very difficult period. He was going to a place where his mission put him in danger, right to a place where he could have been killed. After they got to court, everything was pretty smooth, but to go get Solomon out of the fields, where he was literally picking cotton, was a very brave move.”
Reenactor Cliff Oliver of Greenwich, portraying Solomon Northup within fiddle in hand, spoke at the dedication of Henry B. Northup’s plaque at the Northup family plot in Union Cemetery.
“That movie didn’t do my buddy Henry B. any justice at all,” said Greene as Solomon. “In fact, it didn’t even mention Henry, and Henry B. and I go back a long way.”
“Henry B’s coming to get me, that was no light matter at all,” he said. “At the time he came to get me, (abolitionist) John Brown has already made a name for himself. The Yankees weren’t looked upon kindly in the South.”
The phenomenon of free men being sold back into slavery was due to the fact that the import of slaves from Africa had been stopped, but the need for labor in the South had not.
“With no slaves coming from Africa, people were grabbing black men wherever they saw them, even free ones. I wasn’t the only free man kidnapped and placed into slavery, not by a long shot,” said Greene/Solomon. “But I did write a book about it.”