Heart of Louisiana: Epps House

The Epps House represents a horrible part of Louisiana history.
The Epps House represents a horrible part of Louisiana history.

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - One of this year's Oscar nominees for best picture tells the gripping story of a free man of color who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana.  "12 years a slave" is a true story, the autobiography of Solomon Northup. This slave's "gateway to freedom" still exists.  It's a modest Creole cottage that Northup helped build when he worked as a slave.  FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to that old house-turned-museum near Alexandria in tonight's Heart of Louisiana"

This Creole style cottage - the Epps house - represents a horrible part of Louisiana history. It was a modest plantation home in Avoyelles Parish near the central Louisiana town of Bunkie.  It played a key role in the life of Northup, a free man of color from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery.

"He learned at the slave pen in Washington DC when he tried to prove that he was a free man from New York that led to physical punishment," said LSU history professor Jerry Sanson.

For 12 years, Northup suffered under three different Louisiana slave owners.  But this house for plantation owner Edwin Epps became a gateway to freedom.

"Solomon Northup encountered a carpenter who was originally from Canada whose name was Samuel Bass," Sanson said. "They were both working on this house."

Northup had heard that Bass was anti-slavery, so he got up the courage to ask him to get a letter to his family back in New York.

"That played out very well because one of the letters, in fact, reached the governor of New York, Washington Hunt, who set in motion the legal procedure to have Solomon Northup freed," Sanson said.

After receiving the letter from New York's governor, the state of Louisiana acknowledged that Northup was a free man and allowed him to return home.

"For 12 years from the time he was kidnapped in 1841 until 1853 when he regained his freedom, they had no idea of what happened to him," Sanson said.

Northup wrote an autobiography about his 12 years as a slave.  LSU-Alexandria history professor Sue Eakin was part of a team that researched its accuracy and re-published the book in the 1960s. She also found the original Epps house, the very structure that Northup helped build.

"Much of the Epps house decayed over the last century and a half or was heavily damaged in storms.  But this main interior wall was part of the original house.

The Epps house was moved from its original location and rebuilt on the campus of LSU at Alexandria.  Just as this structure was saved from ruin, Northup's tragic story of survival is also preserved in this plantation museum.

"I would like for people to understand what a slave's life was like," Sanson said. "Solomon Northup's book tells us that very well. And I hope we have adopted that as a theme for this museum and that it will be clear to people what slaves actually went through."

Solomon Northup's story and this house stand as a monument to all slaves and the inhumanity of the treatment of people who were robbed of their freedom.

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