New York Times issues correction to 161-year-old '12 Years a Slave' story

The paper's original story from 1853 misspelt Solomon Northup's name
  • @jjvincent

12 Years a Slave has been making headlines thanks to its success at the Oscars, but 150 years ago the tale of Solomon Northup – kidnapped and sold into slavery - was a real new story, and the focus of full-page coverage from the New York Times.

Now, the paper has released a correction to the 161-year-old story, noting that they misspelt Northup’s name as Northrop. The paper said that the errors “came to light on Monday after a Twitter user pointed out the article in The Times archives.”

It's not the first time the Times have made such a historic correction. In January they admitted that a mistake had been present on their front page for more than a century, after the 49,500th issue had been mistakenly numbered as the 50,000th.

The original article claimed to be the first coverage of the story after Northup was freed from slavery on 4 January, 1853, with the triple-headline from 20 January article that same year announcing the story as “The Kidnapping Case; Narrative of the Seizure and Recovery of Solomon Northrup; Interesting Disclosure”.

Northup would later publish his own account of his ordeals in his memoir “12 Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana,” which would go on to sell 30,000 copies.

 The original Times article outlines the brutal details of Northup’s ordeal briefly but lucidly, covering also his rescue and the legal proceedings he would later take against his kidnappers.

“Burch [Northup’s kidnapper] whipped him with a paddle until he broke that, and then with a cat-o'-nine-tails, giving him a hundred lashes, and he swore he would kill him if he ever stated to anyone that he was a free man,” writes the Times reporter from 1853.

A follow-up article later covered the release of Northup’s memoir, noting that “It will be widely read”.  They couldn't have guessed quite how far Northup’s story would spread.