Solomon Northup's Kindred
The Kidnapping of Free Citizens before the Civil War
by David Fiske
January 2016, 170pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-3664-0
$41, £31, 36€, A56
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-3665-7
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

It was once common for free black Americans to be abducted for forced labor.

Kidnapping was a lucrative crime in antebellum America, and many American citizens—especially free blacks—were abducted for profit. This book reveals the untold stories of the captured.

The story of Solomon Northup, subject of the Academy Award-winning best picture 12 Years a Slave, is representative of the deplorable treatment many African Americans experienced in the period leading up to the Civil War. This book examines antebellum kidnapping, delving into why and how it occurred, and illustrating the active role the U.S. government played in allowing it to continue. It presents case studies of dozens of victims’ experiences that illustrate a grim and little-remembered chapter in American history.

David Fiske’s Solomon Northup’s Kindred reveals the abhorrent conditions and greed that resulted in the kidnapping of American citizens. Factors like early fugitive slave laws, the invention of the cotton gin, the 1808 ban on importing slaves into the United States, and the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision made these crimes highly profitable. Fiske sheds much-needed light on the practice of kidnapping, explaining how it was carried out, identifying conditions that allowed kidnappers to operate, and describing methods for combating the crime. He offers dozens of case studies along with documentation from across historical newspaper reports, anti-slavery literature, local history books, and academic publications to provide an accurate account of kidnapping crimes of the time.


  • Features portraits, sketches, and images of documents and newspaper articles related to kidnapping
  • Identifies the numerous factors that led to the lucrative business of kidnapping
  • Describes the physical and psychological subduing of victims
  • Includes the perspectives of those who tried to help: educators, crusaders, rescuers, and cooperative slave owners
David Fiske, MLS, is a librarian and researcher with extensive experience in African American history. His published works include Solomon Northup: His Life Before and After Slavery and Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years a Slave. He received his bachelor's degree from Cornell University and his Master of Library Science from the University at Albany.


"The film 12 Years a Slave made Solomon Northup, a freeborn black from New York, a household name, but his horrific case was not unique. In Solomon Northup’s Kindred: The Kidnapping of Free Citizens Before the Civil War, David Fiske reminds readers of similar cases and of discrimination against blacks in New York, where they were excluded from jury and militia duty and were required to own property in order to vote."—New York Times, March 8, 2016

"A thoroughly researched account of other free blacks who were also kidnappped and sold into slavery. These crimes were profitable before the Civil War and an example of how difficult it was for even free blacks to enjoy their liberty."—Albany Times Union, May 10, 2016

"David Fiske is a historian with astounding research skills, honed by years of tracking down every available clue about the legendary author of Twelve Years a Slave. Now, in his latest book, Solomon Northup’s Kindred, Fiske applies those same skills to the wider phenomenon of kidnapping free blacks into slavery before the Civil War. The result is an illuminating archive of victims’ names and stories collectively revealing that stealing men, women, and children and selling them into bondage was anything but an anomalous crime, but one inexorably linked to a system in which African Americans had no say and in which the financial incentives of holding them as property compromised law and lawless alike. Fiske’s efforts to document these victims and the crimes that robbed them of their families and freedom are heroic indeed and should be applauded."—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

"David Fiske, in encyclopedic fashion, recreates the history of free Black citizens of the United States and the north who were kidnapped and sold into slavery in the years leading up to the American Civil War. Many were not rescued at the time and were victimized again when their stories were erased from the historical record. With this book Fiske is able to finally provide them with some measure of justice."—Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies, Teacher Education Programs, Hofstra University

"Concise yet capacious, Solomon Northup’s Kindred chillingly shows the gravitational pull of slavery on free people of African descent through the ghastly business of selling free black people into slavery. As Fiske shows, Northup’s famous case told in Twelve Years a Slave was part of a horrific process that terrorized every African American family in the antebellum republic."—Calvin Schermerhorn, Associate Professor of History, Arizona State University

"David Fiske has scoured the pages of history so that we might know, and remember, those who fell victim to one of its cruelest crimes. Following every available lead, it seems, from clues buried deep to those hidden in plain sight, he has expanded his search well beyond Solomon Northup, the free black New Yorker who lived to tell of his kidnapping and harrowing Twelve Years a Slave, to recover as many as possible who, once coaxed or snatched into bondage, never were heard of again. The result is an indispensible, impeccably researched guide that lays bare the human costs of an antebellum economy that incentivized the greedy and conniving to violate, repeatedly, the porous boundaries between law and profit, liberty and chains."—Dr. Kevin M. Burke, Director of Research, The Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.
Accept All Cookies | Decline.