Based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a free, educated black family man and professional violinist from New York, 12 Years a Slave quotes are compelling, devastating and powerfully challenging. Set in the 1840s, this often difficult to watch, but gripping film follows Solomon as he is abducted and sold into slavery and is forced to work on plantations in the state of Louisiana for 12 years before his release. For years Solomon dreams of returning to his home and family, refusing to abandon hope and it’s only through a chance meeting with Canadian abolitionist, Samuel Bass, that his life is altered forever.
[Freeman approaches, Solomon and the other captured slaves, who are all sat on a bench by the side of the dock]
Freeman: Very good. Very good.
[he opens a notebook to read their names from a list]
Freeman: Let’s see here…Eliza!
[he looks at Eliza]
Freeman: Stand up when you hear your name. Eliza?
Freeman: Lethe! John.
[John, who’s sat next to Solomon stands]
Freeman: Oren. Platt!
[we see all the slaves are stood up except for Solomon, Freeman looks at Solomon]
[Platt goes over to Solomon]
Freeman: Stand up.
Freeman: You fit the description given. Why didn’t you answer when called?
Solomon Northup: My name’s not Platt. My name…
[suddenly Freeman strikes Solomon in the face]
Freeman: Your name is Platt. Captain, get these niggers to my cart.
[after being taken to Freeman’s slave quarters, we see them all standing naked in the courtyard as they wash themselves, then they are presented, all of them naked, to a group of slave buyers]
Freeman: I believe I have something very much to your liking in the back room. Follow me, please.
[he takes a man and his wife over to a group of naked slaves]
Freeman: Yes. Now, inspect them at your leisure. But I ask you to pay particular regard to young Ezra here.
[he taps Ezra’s chest and pinches his bicep]
Freeman: Incredibly sound limbs! I have never seen anything quite like him.
[he then walks over to young female naked slave]
Freeman: And this marvelous creature.
[he grabs her face]
Freeman: Can you believe it? Hm? She’ll make a find lady’s maid? Yes? Madam?
Freeman: So, inspect at your leisure. Take your time, help yourself to refreshments.
Freeman: Gentlemen, what catches your fancy here? Hm? This boy? Yes?
[he taps the boy on his chest]
Freeman: Open your mouth.
[he slaps the boy on his cheek and the boy opens his mouth]
Freeman: Open, wider.
[to the slave buyer]
Freeman: Look in there. Never been sick a day in his life. And I call particular attention to Martha, she is an excellent pastry cook.
[Freeman then walks into another room where a plantation owner, Ford, is waiting]
Freeman: Ah, Mr. Ford? Splendid seeing you, sir.
[he shakes hands with Ford]
Freeman: What catches your fancy? This lad?
[he points to a slave standing on a pedestal]
Freeman: He’s very brawny. Huh?
Ford: How much for the ones Platt and Eliza?
Ford: Ah, yes. A thousand for Platt; oh, this is a nigger of considerable talent, I assure you. Seven hundred for Eliza. My fairest price.
Ford: Hm. You will accept a note?
Freeman: Of course, from you, Mr. Ford…
Eliza: Please, sir, do not divide my family.
[holding onto her children]
Eliza: Do not take me unless you take my children as well.
Freeman: Eliza, quiet!
Eliza: You’ll have the most faithful slave in me…
Eliza: The most faithful slave who’s ever lived. But I beg that you do not separate us!
[just then another buyer steps in]
Buyer: Your price for the boy?
Freeman: Yes, the boy.
Freeman: Stop it! Or I will give you something to cry about.
Freeman: Randall, come forward.
[clapping his hand hard]
Freeman: Come, come, come, come, come!
[Randall steps away from Eliza’s arms and goes over to Freeman]
Freeman: Now, you see how fit this boy is. Hm? Like ripe fruit. May I take your stick for a moment?
[the buyer gives Freeman his stick]
Freeman: Observe this.
[he holds the stick high next to Randall]
Freeman: Randall, jump, jump, jump! Run, run, run!
[Randall starts running on the spot against the stick to demonstrate his fitness]
Freeman: Very good! Higher!
[to the buyer]
Freeman: You see this? Now it’s very likely he will grow into a fine beast.
[he hits Randall on the chest indicating for him to get back into line; to the buyer]
Freeman: Uh…six hundred for the boy. Fair and final.
Eliza: No! Oh, God!
[to the buyer]
Freeman: A moment, please.
[Freeman walks over to Ford]
Freeman: Mr. Ford?
Ford: How much for the little girl?
Ford: Well, you’ll have no use for her, one so young will bring you no profit.
Freeman: Oh, no, no, no, no. I cannot sell the girl.
Freeman: No, there’s heaps and piles of money to be made from her. She’s a beauty. One of the regular bloods. None of your thick-lipped, bullet headed, cotton picking niggers here.
[Eliza continues to plead in the background]
Ford: Her child, man. For God’s sake, are you not sentimental in the least?
Freeman: Ah, my sentimentality extends to the length of a coin. Now, do you take this lot, Mr. Ford, or do you pass on them all?
[Ford looks at Eliza holding onto her children]
Eliza: Please, please.
Ford: I will take the ones Platt and Eliza.
Freeman: Sold. Eliza and Platt.
Eliza: I will not go without my children! You will not take them from me!
[Freeman goes over to Eliza and kicks her daughter]
[Freeman grabs Eliza]
Freeman: Get her out of here!
Eliza: Please! Don’t! No!
[two other slaves grab Eliza and pull her away from her children who are now screaming and crying]
Freeman: Get her out of here at once!
Eliza: No! No! No!
[to Solomon as Eliza is being dragged away]
Freeman: Get the fiddle and play. Play, play, play something.
[Solomon grabs the violin and starts playing over the screams and cries of Eliza and her children, as Eliza is dragged away Ford goes over to Ford]
Freeman: Yes. Mr. Ford.
[Ford, who looks distressed, hands him the money for Solomon and Eliza]
Freeman: A pleasure.
[Freeman walks off]
[Ford arrives at his plantation with Solomon and Eliza in the back of his carriage, he’s met by his wife]
Mistress Ford: Did you bring all those niggers? Two of them? You got two?
Ford: Mr. Chapin.
[Ford’s wife notices Eliza crying]
Mistress Ford: This one’s cryin’. Why is this one cryin’?
Ford: Separated from her children.
Mistress Ford: Oh, dear.
Ford: It couldn’t be helped.
Mistress Ford: Poor, poor woman.
Ford: Mr. Chapin.
Chapin: Yes, sir.
Ford: Tomorrow you can take these two up to the mill and start them workin’. For now make them adequate, fix them a meal and have them rest themselves.
Chapin: Yes, sir.
[to Solomon and Eliza]
Chapin: Come on, now. Come on. Don’t dawdle.
[Solomon and Eliza get off the carriage; to Eliza who’s still crying]
Mistress Ford: Something to eat and some rest, your children will soon be forgotten.
[the next day Solomon and the other slaves are presented to Ford’s chief carpenter, Tibeats]
Tibeats: Now for all of you raw niggers that don’t know, my name is John Tibeats, William Ford’s chief carpenter. You will refer to me as Master. Now, Mr. Chapin is the overseer on this plantation. You too will refer to him as Master. So clap your hands.
[he starts clapping his hands]
Tibeats: Like this. Come on. Come on now.
[the slaves start to clap their hands]
Tibeats: Clap your hands.
[Tibeats starts singing as they clap]
Tibeats: Nigger run, nigger flew. Nigger tore his shirt in two. Run, run, the pattyroller will get you. Run, nigger, run, well you better get away.
[we then see the slaves chopping down a tree]
Tibeats: That’s right. Like you mean it.
[as we see the slaves chopping down the trees we hear Tibeats continue singing his song]
Tibeats: Nigger run, run so fast. Stoved his head in a hornets nest. Run, run, the pattyroller will get you. Run, nigger, run, well you better get away. Run, nigger, run, the pattyroller will get you. Run, nigger, run, well you better get away. Some folks say a nigger don’t steal, I caught three in my corn field.
[we see Solomon working chopping down trees, looking out in despair as we continue to hear Tibeats singing his song]
Tibeats: One has a bushel and one has a peck. One has a rope, it was hung around his neck. Run, nigger, run, the pattyroller will get you. Run, nigger, run, well you better get away. Run, nigger, run, the pattyroller will get you. Run, nigger, run, well you better get away. Hey, Mr. Pattyroller, don’t catch me! Catch that nigger behind that tree! Run, nigger, run, the pattyroller will get you. Run, nigger, run, well you better get away. Run, nigger, run, the pattyroller will get you. Run, nigger, run, well you better get away. Run, nigger, run, the pattyroller will get you. Run, nigger, run, well you better get away. Run, nigger, run…
[Tibeats singing continues in the background as we see Ford preaching to his slaves]
Ford: I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine. and then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him.
[Solomon watches Ford in despair]
[one day after finishing their day’s work chopping wood the slaves encounter a small group of native American Indians with whom they share a brief respite around a fire, Solomon watches them as they dance around the fire with one of them playing an instrument a little like a violin; later Solomon approaches Ford and Tibeats with an idea that came to him near the river]
Solomon Northup: The creek is plenty deep enough to sail, even with a boat full of load. The distance from the work area to the point on the latter bayou is several miles by water fewer than land. It occurs to me that the expense of the transportation would be materially diminished…
Tibeats: Materially diminished?
Solomon Northup: If we use the waterway.
Tibeats: Are you an engineer or a nigger?
[Ford gives Tibeats a cold look]
Tibeats: Are you an engineer or a nigger?
Ford: Let the man say his piece.
Tibeats: It’s a scheme. Plenty of engineers have schemed similarly. The passes are too tight.
Solomon Northup: I reckon them at more than twelve feet at their most narrow. Wide enough for a tub to traverse if a team of niggers cleared it out.
Tibeats: And you know what of transport and terra formin’?
Solomon Northup: I labored repairing the Champlain canal on the section over which William Van Nortwick was superintendent. With my earnings I hired several efficient hands to assist me and entered into contracts for the transportation of large rafts of timber from Lake Champlain to Troy.
Ford: Well I’ll admit to being impressed even if you won’t.
Ford: Collect a team and see what good you can do.
[he gives Solomon a friendly pat on the shoulder and walks off with Solomon following him]
[we see Solomon work with the slaves to build a raft which he then uses it on the river to demonstrate, the slaves and Ford cheer him as he rows his raft towards them]
Ford: Platt, you are a marvel.
[Solomon stops the raft near Ford and steps off it]
Ford: What took you so long?
[Ford shakes Solomon’s hand and laughs]
Solomon Northup: Thank you, Master Ford.
Ford: No, thank you.
[as Ford walks off, Solomon is greeted by the other slaves who offer their congratulations and shake Solomon’s hand, Tibeats stand by the side looking defeated]
[later Solomon walks up to Ford’s house, Ford is sat with his wife and children on the front porch]
[Solomon stops by the front steps, Ford takes out a violin and bow, walks over to Solomon and offers it to him, Solomon hesitates for a moment before taking it]
Solomon Northup: My great thanks, Master Ford.
Ford: No, my thanks to you, and it is the least of it. I hope it brings us both much joy over the years.
[Ford smiles and walks back to the front porch, looking sad from hearing this statement, Solomon turns and walks away]
[back at the slave quarters Eliza is weeping her heart out over the loss of her children]
Eliza: Oh, God! Please.
[Solomon, who is sat next to her eating his dinner, looks frustrated and finally snaps]
Solomon Northup: Eliza. Eliza. Stop! Stop your wailing!
[Eliza becomes more quiet but still continues to cry]
Solomon Northup: You let yourself be overcome by sorrow, you will drown in it.
Eliza: Have you stopped crying for your children? You make no sounds, but will you ever let them go in your heart?
Solomon Northup: They are as my flesh.
Eliza: Then who is distressed? Do I upset the Master and the Mistress? Do you care less about my loss than…than their well being?
Solomon Northup: Master Ford is a decent man.
Eliza: He is a slaver!
Solomon Northup: Under the circumstances…
Eliza: Under the circumstances he is a slaver! But you truckle at his boot…
Solomon Northup: No.
Eliza: You luxuriate in his favor.
Solomon Northup: I survive! I will not fall into despair! I will offer up my talents to Master Ford. I will keep myself hearty till freedom is opportune!
Eliza: Oh, Ford is your opportunity? You think he does not know that you are more than you suggest? But he does nothing for you. Nothing! You are no better than prized livestock. Call for him. Call, tell him of your previous circumstances and see what it earns you, Solomon. So, you’ve settled into your role as Platt then?
[as Eliza turns from him suddenly Solomon grabs and turns her in anger]
Solomon Northup: My back is thick with scars for protesting my freedom. Do not accuse me.
Eliza: I accuse you of nothing. I cannot accuse. I have done dishonorable things to survive, and for all of them I have ended up here. No better than if I had stood up for myself. God, forgive me. Solomon, let me weep for my children.
[with that she turns, sits by the steps and continues to weep]
[the slaves are gathered in the garden as Ford preaches to them]
Ford: Who so ever therefore, shall humble himself, as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And who so shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.
[as Ford preaches Eliza weeps for her children, Ford’s wife turns to Rachel, her house slave]
Mistress Ford: I cannot have that kind of depression about.
[on hearing this, Solomon looks at Eliza with worry]
Ford: But who so shall offend one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Amen.
[Tibeats walks over to Solomon as he is working on building a house]
Tibeats: Make them boards flush.
Solomon Northup: They are, sir.
Tibeats: No, they is no such thing.
Solomon Northup: They’re smooth to the touch as a yearling’s coat.
Tibeats: Are you calling me a liar, boy?
Solomon Northup: Well, it’s only a matter of perspective, sir. From where you stand you may see differently, but the hands are not mistaken. I simply ask that you use all your senses before rendering judgment.
Tibeats: Oh, my, you are a brute. You are a dog.
[he goes over to Solomon and suddenly howls like a dog and kicks Solomon]
Tibeats: And no better for followin’ instruction!
Solomon Northup: I’ll do as ordered.
Tibeats: Well then you’ll be up at daybreak. You will procure a keg of nails from Chapin and commence to puttin’ on clapboards.
Solomon Northup: Yes, sir.
Tibeats: Make them boards flush.
[Tibeats turns and walks off, as Solomon goes to get back to work he hears Eliza being pulled away by two men]
Eliza: Please, sir! Where am I going? Where am I…? Where am I going?
[she sees Solomon as she’s being pulled away and calls out to him]
Eliza: Solomon! Solomon! Solomon! Solomon!
[Solomon watches her being taken away unable to do anything]
[as Solomon watches Eliza being dragged away, he has flashback to the time they were locked in the cell together when they were captured by Burch and Radburn]
Eliza: When I say I had my master’s favor, you understand. And for nine years he blessed me with every comfort and luxury in life. Silks and jewels and even servants to wait upon us. Such was our life, and the life of this beautiful girl I bore for him. But Master Berry’s daughter, she always looked at me with an unkind nature and she hated Emily, no matter she and Emily were flesh of flesh. As Master Berry’s health failed, she gained power in the household and eventually I was brought to the city under the false pretense of our free papers being executed. My poor children.
[back at the slave quarters, Solomon sits and eats alone as he remembers]
[the next day Tibeats walks over to Solomon as he works hard on building the house]
Tibeats: I thought I told you to commence to puttin’ on clapboards.
Solomon Northup: Yes, Master. I am about it. These have all been replaced.
Tibeats: Well, then didn’t I tell you to get a keg of nails?
Solomon Northup: And so I did.
Tibeats: So you did.
[suddenly in anger Tibeats kicks out one of the boards on the side house]
Tibeats: Goddamn you! I thought you knowed somethin’!
Solomon Northup: I did as instructed. If there’s something wrong, it’s wrong with the instruction!
Tibeats: Oh, you, black bastard. You Goddamn black bastard.
[he walks over to Solomon carrying a whip]
Tibeats: Strip your clothes.
[Solomon doesn’t do anything and Tibeats pushes him]
Solomon Northup: I will not.
[suddenly Tibeats attacks him, but Solomon fights back and throws him to the ground]
Tibeats: You! You will not live to see another day, nigger!
[Solomon manages to take the whip from him and starts beating him with it]
Tibeats: Help! God, help! Help!
[Tibeats tries to crawl away as Solomon continues to beat him with rage]
Tibeats: Help! Help! I’m sorry! I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
[finally Solomon kicks him and steps away from him, just then Chapin rides in]
Chapin: What is the matter What is the matter?
Solomon Northup: Master…Master Tibeats wants to whip me for using the nails you gave me.
[Tibeats rises and spits at Solomon]
Tibeats: This ain’t done by half. I will have flesh, and I will have all of it.
[Tibeats turns and walks away; to Solomon]
Chapin: Do not stir. Do not leave the plantation, for if you run I cannot protect you. Stay here.
[he turns and rides off]
[as Solomon sits and waits for Chapin, he sees Tibeats ride in with two of his thugs, we then see Solomon, being carried off with his hands and feet tied, they tie a noose around his neck and prepare to hang him from a tree when Chapin arrives]
Chapin: Gentlemen, whoever moves that nigger is a dead man.
[they let go of the rope, but Solomon’s feet barely touch the ground and he continues to choke as he dangles]
Chapin: I am the overseer on this plantation. William Ford holds the mortgage on Platt, if you hang him, he will lose his debt. You have no claim to his life. As for you two, if you have any regard for your own safety…I say, be gone!
[the two thugs turn and run off]
Tibeats: You got no cause! Platt is mine, and mine to do with as I please! If you touch him…
[Chapin raises his gun and points it at him, Tibeats turns and runs off, Chapin looks at Solomon who is still dangling from his neck, he turns and calls out to one of the slaves]
Chapin: Sam, get the mule! Get Master Ford.
[Solomon is left hanging, barely able to support his weight on his toes, the other slaves emerge from their cabins and seem to take no notice, then Rachel sneaks in and gives him some water, we see Chapin and Ford’s wife watching him from the house, he’s left in this state for hours when eventually Ford rides in and cuts the rope]
[we see Solomon has been laid down on the floor in Ford’s house by the front door, Ford walks in carrying a gun and kneels next to Solomon]
Ford: I believe Tibeats is skulkin’ about the premises somewhere. He wants you dead and he will have it so. It’s no longer safe for you here, and I don’t believe you will remain passive if Tibeats attacks. I have transferred my debt to Edwin Epps. He will take charge of you.
[Ford hears something outside and goes to check it out then walks back in]
Solomon Northup: Master Ford?
[Ford kneels by his side and Solomon grabs his arm]
Solomon Northup: You must know that I’m not a slave.
Ford: I cannot hear that.
Solomon Northup: Before I came to you I was a free man.
Ford: I’m tryin’ to save your life!
[he pulls away from Solomon]
Ford: And…I have a debt to be mindful of. And that is to Edwin Epps now. He is a hard man, prides himself on being a “nigger breaker.” But truthfully, I could find no others who would take you. You’ve made a reputation of yourself. Whatever the circumstances, you are an exceptional nigger, Platt. But I fear no good will come of it.
[Ford walks away living Solomon lying on the ground looking worn out and defeated]
[Epps reads from the Bible to his slaves, which now includes Solomon]
Edwin Epps: “And that servant, which knew his Lord’s will. Which knew his Lord’s will. And prepared not himself, prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.” Did you hear that? Stripes. That nigger that don’t obey his lord, that’s his master, do you see? That there nigger shall be beaten with many stripes. Now, “many” signifies a great many. Forty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty lashes.
[he holds up the Bible]
Edwin Epps: That’s Scripter.
[we then see the slaves cotton picking]
Edward: Pick that cotton. Move along now! Come on now!
[Edwards uses his whip]
Edward: Drive them niggers. Pick that cotton. Move along now! Hear? What are you doin’, boy? Come on!
[at the end of the day, the weight of each worker’s cotton basket is weighed]
Treach: Two hundred and forty for Bob.
Edwin Epps: What you got for James?
Treach: Two hundred and ninety-five pounds.
Edwin Epps: That’s real good, boy. That’s real good.
Treach: One hundred eighty-two for Platt.
Edwin Epps: How much can even an average nigger pick a day?
Treach: Two hundred pounds.
Edwin Epps: This nigger ain’t even average.
Treach: Five hundred and twelve pounds for Patsey.
Edwin Epps: Five hundred and twelve. You men folk got no shame lettin’ Patsey out pick you. The day ain’t yet come she swung lower than five hundred pounds.
[he walks up behind her and puts his hands on her shoulder]
Edwin Epps: Queen of the fields, she is.
Treach: One hundred thirty-eight pounds…
Edwin Epps: I ain’t done, Treach. Ain’t I owed a minute to luxuriate on the work Patsey done?
Treach: Yes, sir.
[as the slaves dance Epps seems to be fascinated by Patsey and watches her dance when suddenly Epps’s wife throws a crystal decanter at Patsey’s face making her yell in pain]
Mistress Epps: Sell her!
Edwin Epps: What’s all this?
Mistress Epps: You will sell the negress!
Edwin Epps: Sell little Pats?
[we hear Patsey crying in the background]
Edwin Epps: She pick with more vigor than any other nigger. Choose another to go.
Mistress Epps: No other. Sell her.
Edwin Epps: I will not.
Mistress Epps: You will remove that black bitch from this property, or I’ll take myself back to Cheneyville.
Edwin Epps: Back to that hog’s trough where I found you? Do not set yourself up against Patsey, my dear. Cause I will rid myself of you well before I do away with her.
[Epps’s wife walks off; to the slaves as they stare in silence]
Edwin Epps: What you looking at?!
Edwin Epps: Damned woman!
[he goes to pour himself a drink]
Edwin Epps: I won’t have my mood spoiled. I will not. Dance!
[Patsey is dragged off the floor]
Edwin Epps: Dance, I said!
[the music starts playing and the slaves start to dance again]
Edwin Epps: Come on! Pick it up, Platt. Play that fiddle, boy! Wooh!
Mistress Shaw: What be Epps’s concern?
Solomon Northup: I’d rather not say.
Mistress Shaw: Oh, a little gossip on the Sabbath be fine. All things in moderation.
Solomon Northup: As you are aware, Master Epps is a man of hard countenance. You know he has ill feeling toward your husband.
Mistress Shaw: He do.
Solomon Northup: Master Epps has somehow come to believe that Master Shaw… something of a lothario. A misguided belief, no doubt.
Mistress Shaw: No doubt, if not born out of truth itself.
[she waves to her husband]
Solomon Northup: I meant no disrespect.
Mistress Shaw: He ain’t heard you.
Solomon Northup: I meant no disrespect to you, Mistress.
Mistress Shaw: Got no cause to worry for my sensibilities. I ain’t felt the end of a lash in more years than I can recall, I ain’t worked a field neither. Where once I served, now I have others servin’ me. The cost to my current existence be Master Shaw, broadcasting his affections and me enjoyin’ the pantomime of his fidelity. If that what keep me from cotton pickin’ niggers, that what it be. A small and reasonable price to be paid for sure.
[she turns to Patsey]
Mistress Shaw: I known what it like to be the object of Master’s predilections and peculiarities. A lusty visit in the night, or a visitation with the whip. Take comfort, Patsey, Good Lord will manage Epps. In His own time, Good Lord will manage ’em all. The curse of the Pharaohs but a poor example of what wait for the plantation class.
[she smiles and looks at Solomon and Patsey]
Mistress Shaw: This is nice.
[when it comes to Patsey turn]
Mistress Epps: There’ll be none for you, Patsey.
[Patsey just turns her face; to Epps]
Mistress Epps: You see that? You see that look of insolence she give me?
Edwin Epps: I seen nothing but her turn away.
Mistress Epps: Are you blind or ignorant? It was hot, hateful scorn. It filled that black face. You tell me you didn’t see it, it’s because you choose not to look, or are you saying I lie?
Edwin Epps: Whatever it was, it passed.
Mistress Epps: Is that how you are with the niggers? Lettin’ every ill thought fester inside ’em? Look at ’em. They foul with it. They foul with their hate. You let it be, it’s gonna come back to us in the dark of night. You want that? You want them black animals leave us gut like pigs in our own sleep?
[Epps doesn’t respond]
Mistress Epps: Oh. You are manless. A damn eunuch if there ever was. If you won’t stand for me, I pray you’d at least be a credit to your own kind and beat every foul thought from ’em.
[Epps doesn’t do anything which makes Epps’s angry, so she turns, walks over to Patsey and drives her nails across Patsey’s face making her scream in pain]
Mistress Epps: Beat it from ’em!
[Epps’s gets up, goes to Patsey and drags her out as she cries; to the slaves]
Mistress Epps: Eat. Fill yourselves. And then we dance.
[Solomon and all the other slaves are stood in shocked silence]
Patsey: I have a request, an act of kindness.
[Patsey gives Solomon a ring]
Patsey: I secreted it from the Mistress.
Solomon Northup: Return it.
Patsey: It yours, Platt.
Solomon Northup: For what cause?
Patsey: All I ask, end my life. Take my body to the margin of the swamp. Take me by the throat, hold me low in the water until I still and without life. Bury me in a lonely place of dying.
Solomon Northup: I will do no such thing.
[he throws the ring back at Patsey]
Solomon Northup: The gory detail with which you speak.
Patsey: I thought on it long and hard.
Solomon Northup: It is melancholia, nothing more. How can you fall into such despair?
Patsey: How can you not know? I ain’t got no comfort in this life. If I can’t buy mercy from you, I’ll beg it.
Solomon Northup: There are others. Beg them.
Patsey: I’m begging you!
Solomon Northup: Why? Why would you consign me to damnation with such an ungodly request?
Patsey: There is God here! God is merciful and he forgive merciful acts. Won’t be no hell for you. Do it. Do what I ain’t got the strength to do myself.
[she places her hand on his chest and he pushes it away in anger, he turns from her, lies down and hears Patsey crying]
[in the slave quarters Armsby tends to Solomon’s wounds on his back from the whipping he’d received earlier]
Armsby: It’s a tragedy. How does such come to pass? Working a field and picking cotton like a lowly hand. I’m of a damn sight better station. I worked as an overseer, you know.
Solomon Northup: I did not know, sir.
Armsby: Not “sir.” Just Armsby. I’m not owed more than any other in the field.
Solomon Northup: How did you arrive at such a place, if I may ask?
Armsby: Ask, it’s just conversation. I became a little too dependent on the whiskey, a little too undependable on the job. Now before you say I’m just a sorry drunkard, let me state my case. As reliable employment as overseeing is, it is no easy chore on the spirit. I say, no man of conscious can take the lash to another human day in, day out without shredding at his own self. Takes him to a place where he either makes excuses within his mind to be unaffected, or he finds some way to trample his guilty sensations. So, I trampled. With frequency.
[Armsby finishes tending to Solomon’s back and comes over to sit opposite him]
Armsby: I gave in to tales of wealth and prosperity. But such profitable outcomes are reserved for plantation masters. It’s the lot of the rest of us to serve. Now, all I want is to earn a decent wage and get myself home.
[Armsby gets up and walks off]
Edwin Epps: Well Armsby told me today the devil was among my niggers. That I had one that needed watchin’ or he would run away. When I asked him why, he said you come over to him, waked him up in the middle of the night and wanted him to carry a letter to Marksville. What you got to say to that?
Solomon Northup: There’s no truth to it.
Edwin Epps: You say.
Solomon Northup: How could I write a letter without ink or paper? Who am I gonna write to? I got no friends living as I know of. That Armsby…that Armsby is a lying, drunken fellow. Didn’t he want you to hire him as an overseer? Well, that’s it. He wants to make you believe we’re all gonna run away so you’ll hire him as an overseer. He believes you’re soft soap. And he’s given to such talk. Made this story out of whole cloth because he wants a situation. It’s all a lie, Master. It’s all a lie.
[there’s a tense moment of silence as Epps watches Solomon]
Edwin Epps: Well, I’ll be damned.
[he pauses again]
Edwin Epps: Were he not free and white, Platt. Were he not free and white.
[Epps then turns and walks off leaving Solomon, later we see Solomon burning the letter he’d drafted to give to Armsby and watches it burn with his chance of freedom]
Edwin Epps: What’s funny?
Bass: Epps, I merely mean to finish the work at hand, as requested, and as paid for.
Edwin Epps: If something rubs you wrongly, I offer you the opportunity to speak on it.
Bass: You ask plainly, so I will tell you plainly. What amused me just then was your concern for my well-being in this heat when, quite frankly, the condition of your laborers…
Edwin Epps: The condition of my laborers?
Bass: It is horrid.
Edwin Epps: What the hell?
Bass: It’s all wrong. All wrong, Mr. Epps.
Edwin Epps: They ain’t hired help. They’re my property
Bass: You say that with pride.
Edwin Epps: I say it as fact.
Bass: If this conversation concerns what is factual and what is not, then it must be said, that there is no justice nor righteousness in their slavery. But you do open up an interesting question. What right have you to your niggers, when you come down to the point?
Edwin Epps: What right?
Edwin Epps: I bought ’em. I paid for ’em.
Bass: Well of course you did, and the law says you have the right to hold a nigger. But begging the law’s pardon, it lies. Suppose they pass a law taking away your liberty, making you a slave? Suppose.
Edwin Epps: That ain’t a supposable case.
Bass: Laws change, Epps. Universal truths are constant. It is a fact, a plain and simple fact, that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and black alike.
Edwin Epps: You comparing me to a nigger, Bass?
Bass: I’m only asking, in the eyes of God, what is the difference?
Edwin Epps: You might as well ask what the difference is between a white man and a baboon. I seen one of them critters in Orleans know just as much as any nigger I got.
[Solomon listens to them as he works]
Bass: Listen, Epps. These niggers are human beings. If they are allowed to climb no higher than brute animals, you and men like you will have to answer for it. There is an ill, Mr. Epps. A fearful ill, resting upon this nation. And there will be a day of reckoning yet.
Edwin Epps: You like to hear yourself talk, Bass, better than any man I know of. You’d argue that black was white, or white black, if anybody’d contradict you. A fine supposition if you lived among Yankees in New England. But you don’t. You most assuredly do not.
[Epps walks away and Bass turns to continue work with Solomon next to him]
[Patsey stands between them to stop Epps from hurting Solomon any further]
Patsey: I went to Master Shaw’s plantation.
Edwin Epps: Ah! You admit it.
Patsey: Yes, freely. And you know why?
[she holds out a small bar of soap in her hand]
Patsey: I got this from Mistress Shaw. Mistress Epps won’t even grant me no soap to clean with.
[Patsey begins to sob]
Patsey: I stink so much, I make myself gag! Five hundred pounds of cotton day in, day out! More than any man here. And for that, I will be clean. That’s all I ask.
[referring to the soap]
Patsey: This, here, what I went to Shaw’s for.
Edwin Epps: Liar.
Patsey: The Lord knows that’s all!
Edwin Epps: You’re lying.
Patsey: And you, blind with your own covetousness! I don’t lie, Master. If you kill me, I’ll stick to that.
Edwin Epps: I’ll fetch you down. I’ll learn you to go to Shaw’s.
[we see Solomon sat alone in the woods trying to tighten the strings on his violin when one of them breaks, in anger and frustration Solomon breaks his violin and weeps; later Solomon is helping Bass as they build the structure]
Solomon Northup: Master Bass, I want to ask you what part of the country you come from?
Bass: No part of this land. I originate from Canada. Now, guess where that is.
Solomon Northup: Oh, I know where Canada is. I’ve been there myself. Montreal and Kingston and Queenston and a great many places.
Bass: Well traveled for a slave. How came you here?
Solomon Northup: Oh, Master Bass, if justice had been done I never would have been here.
Bass: How’s this? Tell me all.
Solomon Northup: I’m afraid to tell you.
Bass: Every word you speak is a profound secret.
[a little later, after hearing Solomon’s story]
Bass: Your story…it is amazing, and in no good way.
Solomon Northup: Do you believe, sir, in justice, as you said?
Bass: I do.
Solomon Northup: Slavery is an evil that should befall none?
Bass: I believe so.
Solomon Northup: If you truly do, then I ask, I beg, that you write my friends in the north, acquainting them of my situation and beseeching them to forward free papers. It would be an unspeakable happiness to see my wife and my family again.
Bass: I traveled this country for the best part of twenty years and my freedom is everything. The fact that I can walk out of here tomorrow brings me great pleasure. My life doesn’t mean much to anyone. It seems yours might mean a lot to a whole lot of people. But what you ask of me, sir, scares me. And I must say, l am afraid. Not just for you, but for me.
[he pauses as he sees Treach approaching them, Solomon looks as though all hope has been stripped from him]
Bass: I will write your letter, sir. And if it brings you your freedom, it will be more than a pleasure, it will have been my duty. Now, would you kindly hand me those shingles?
[Solomon sees Treach reach them and hands Bass the pieces of wood]
[after some time has passed with no word from Bass, we see Solomon staring into the distance with tears in his eyes; we then see some slaves, including Solomon, plowing a field when a carriage pulls up to Epps’ plantation and the Sheriff makes his way to the field]
Sheriff: Platt! Where’s the boy called Platt?
[Solomon turns and holds up his hand]
Sheriff: Come here, boy.
[Solomon makes his towards the Sheriff]
Sheriff: Your name is Platt, is it?
Solomon Northup: Yes, sir.
Sheriff: You know that man?
[Solomon looks towards the carriage at the man he’s referring to, after a moment’s hesitation Solomon suddenly recognizes the man as Parker, the shop owner in Saratoga]
Solomon Northup: Mr. Parker.
Sheriff: Say again?
Solomon Northup: Mr. Parker.
Sheriff: That man received a letter compiling many accusations. You look me in the eye and on your life you answer me truthfully. Have you any other name than Platt?
Solomon Northup: Solomon Northup is my name.
[at that moment Epps approaches them]
Edwin Epps: Sheriff, what’s all this?
Sheriff: It’s official business.
Edwin Epps: My nigger, my business.
Sheriff: Your business waits.
Sheriff: Tell me of your family.
Edwin Epps: Platt.
Solomon Northup: I have a wife, two children.
Edwin Epps: What the hell?
Sheriff: What are your children’s names?
Solomon Northup: Margaret and Alonzo.
Sheriff: What was your wife’s name before her marriage?
Solomon Northup: Anne Hampton. I am who I say.
Edwin Epps: Where you going, Platt?
[Solomon starts making his way towards Parker]
[as Solomon walks towards Parker]
Edwin Epps: Who authorized you to interfere with my property?
Sheriff: My authority.
Edwin Epps: Platt, you come back here. Platt. You come back here, boy.
[as Solomon rushes towards Parker the two suddenly embrace each other, Epps then interrupts them and pulls them apart]
Edwin Epps: You will unhand him. Platt is my nigger!
Parker: He is Mr. Solomon Northup.
Edwin Epps: You say. You come here, unfamiliar to me, and make claims.
Sheriff: I got no doubts. The man is Solomon Northup.
[Epps grabs hold of Solomon]
Edwin Epps: The hell he is! He’s my nigger, and I’ll fight you for him!
Parker: As is your right. As it will be my pleasure to bankrupt you in the courts. Your decision. Unhand him.
[Parkers pushes Epps hand away from Solomon and he leads Solomon towards the carriage]
Edwin Epps: I know you had some hand in this, Platt. I’m gonna get to the bottom of it. You hear me?
Parker: Pay him no mind.
Edwin Epps: I paid good money for this nigger. Courthouse got papers to prove it!
Parker: And we got papers proving he’s free!
Edwin Epps: I own you. I own you. You belong to me. You hear me, Platt?
[he tries to grab Solomon again]
Parker: Unhand him!
Edwin Epps: You’ll have two hundred stripes across your back by sundown!
[as Solomon is about to get onto the carriage he hears Patsey calling out to him]
Edwin Epps: Get my horse, Treach.
[Solomon goes over to Patsey and as he reaches her she throws her arms around him and they embrace]
Edwin Epps: Get away from him, Pats.
[Epps, now on his horse, makes his way to the carriage]
Edwin Epps: I’ll be seeing you real soon.
Parker: Solomon, we need to make haste.
[reluctantly Solomon let’s go of Patsey and turns to walk towards the carriage]
[as Solomon boards the carriage and it starts pulling away, he looks back and waves goodbye to Patsey one last time, as he turns to look ahead in the background Patsey collapses in grief]
[last lines; Solomon stands outside the front door of his house in Saratoga, he appears overcome when Parker comes to stand beside him, as Solomons enters inside, his wife and children and Margaret’s husband are stood with her their baby in his arms, Solomon walks slowly towards them with tears in his eyes]
Solomon Northup: I apologize for my appearance, but I have had a difficult time these past several years. Margaret. Alonzo.
[Margaret, now crying, goes over to him and embraces him, then Margaret’s husband walks over to them]
Solomon Northup: Who is this?
Margaret Northup: He’s my husband.
Solomon Northup: Husband?
Margaret’s Husband: It is very good to meet you, sir.
Solomon Northup: We have much acquainting to do.
Margaret’s Husband: Yes, sir.
[Margaret’s husband passes their baby into her arms]
Margaret Northup: And this is your grandson. Solomon Northup Staunton.
[Margaret passes the baby to him, as Solomon looks at the baby tears roll down his face]
Solomon Northup: Solomon.
[overwhelmed with emotion Solomon breaks down and weeps]
Solomon Northup: Anne, forgive me.
[Anne comes over to him and touches his face tenderly]
Anne Northup: There is nothing to forgive.
[she kisses his cheek, they then are joined by the whole family as they all hold on to each other]
“Solomon Northup was one of the few victims of kidnapping to regain freedom from slavery. Solomon brought the men responsible for his abduction to trial. Unable to testify against white’s in the nation’s capital, he lost against the slave pen owner, James Burch. After lengthy legal proceedings in New York, his kidnappers Hamilton and Brown also avoided prosecution. In 1853 Solomon published the book ‘Twelve Years a Slave’. He became active in the abolitionist movement, lectured on slavery throughout the Northeastern United States and amid fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. The date, location and circumstances of Solomon’s death are unknown.”