Special to The Post-Star
SARATOGA SPRINGS - One day, he was walking through the streets of Saratoga, a free man with a violin, a comely wife and great prospects ahead. The next day, he was in chains.
In the days, months and years that followed, Solomon Northup would be deceived, beaten, drugged, starved and humiliated. Stolen from home and sold into slavery in 1841, Northup would endure 12 years of cruel exile before he would walk the streets of Saratoga again.
Saturday, his heroic survival and the eventual end of slavery were the focus of A Celebration of Freedom, the fourth annual Solomon Northup Day, held at the Urban Heritage Area Visitors Center.
Mayor Kenneth Klotz read a proclamation declaring the day officially Solomon Northup Day. Assemblyman Roy McDonald, R-Wilton, gave a few brief remarks. A representative from the office of Rep. John Sweeney, R-Clifton Park, read a letter praising the "unique celebration of a local legacy."
A full program of speakers and music, from the James Daggs Trio to John Charles Cook, a classical guitarist, rounded out the afternoon event.
The idea for Solomon Northup Day began in 1999 when Renee Moore of Saratoga Springs saw a thought-provoking exhibit at Union College.
"It was an extensive exhibit, honoring this man's ordeal," said Moore. "I began to think about what a long, long time African-Americans have been here in Saratoga."
Moore added that the number of African-Americans in Saratoga has been steadily decreasing.
"We're only about 3 percent of the population," Moore said. "My generation doesn't live here anymore. They've left because there aren't any jobs. I believe by honoring one of our earliest residents, by looking back and talking about the past, we can start to talk about the future."
David Fisk, a local history buff, gave an address examining speculation about what happened to Northup after he was freed from slavery and returned to the area in 1853.
When and where Northup died, as well as where he is buried, remains a mystery.
"The records show that Solomon was making public appearances about two weeks after he was freed," Fisk said. "In February 1853, he spoke in Albany and throughout 1854-55, there are records of him appearing in Boston, Worcester, Buffalo and Montpelier, Vt."
Apparently, Northup made speeches during organized anti-slavery meetings, Fisk added, and along the way, became friends with a minister, John R. Smith, with whom he worked in secret on the Underground Railroad.
Some of Smith's correspondence, which was kept by his son, makes references to Northup as late as 1863.
"One of the letters from the son says 'Solomon came to see my father after the emancipation,' which would mean he lived beyond 1860, when he was first missing from the census record," Fisk said. "His wife, Anne, is listed in the 1860 and 1865 Censuses taken in Glens Falls and she's not listed as a widow."