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March 4, 2014

North Country man's historic story wins big in Hollywood

AUSABLE CHASM — Local history drew some serious spotlight Sunday at the Academy Awards, when a film based on the life of an Essex County man won Best Picture.

And for her role in top film, “Twelve Years a Slave,” actress Lupita Nyong’o was named Best Supporting Actress. She played Patsey, a slave subjected to rape and abuse from a southern plantation owner. 

The film also won Best Adapted Screenplay.

The movie drew its tale from the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup, a man of color, who was born free in 1807 in what is now the Town of Minerva. At that time, the town’s boundaries were part of the Town of Schroon.

Northup, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor in the film, grew up as a free man in Essex County and settled with his wife and children in Saratoga Springs until he was lured for work as a musician to Washington, D.C., in 1841. 

He ventured south to ply his musical gift as a fiddler, but he was illegally kidnapped, bound in chains then dragged to New Orleans and sold into slavery.

He spent 12 years in bondage.

‘A DEEPER MEANING’

Don Papson, historian and founder of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum at Ausable Chasm, has researched aspects of Northup’s life, and his North Country connection is shared at the museum.

Peter Slocum serves on the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association Board of Directors.

Accolades for Northup’s story, he said on Monday, bring deeper meaning to a long struggle caught inside America’s dream of freedom.

“It’s super exciting,” he said. “I think the award given to ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ deepens people’s understanding of this huge struggle that tore our country apart. 

“The movie also shows that — unless we’re all free — nobody’s free.

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