Dear Mrs. Morton:
I am much interested in Henry B. Northup, a lawyer of Sandy Hill who represented Joseph S. Brown, negro preacher and missionary to Liberia, in his action against Brown’s “presiding elder” in Liberia, for what we would now call libel, slander, and/or defamation of character.
Brown could get no redress under church law because they would not listen to a black man, and Henry B. Northup, who himself was a Methodist on the Building Committee of the church building operation in 1841 and later a Trustee of the church, went to bat for Brown in our civil courts, and so effectively that the elder admitted the inaccuracy of his story and paid $150.00 damages. This ended in 1848. Late in 1852 Henry B. Northup got a commission from the then Governor Hunt of New York State, and went into Louisiana to retrieve a free negro by the name of Solomon Northup who had been kidnapped and sold into, slavery in 1841. This latter book was edited by one David Wilson.
Wilson wrote the story of the life of Jane McCrea which was published in 1853. I think he had to do with “Brown’s Journal” which is the story of the Negro preacher’s experiences leading up to his efforts in Liberia and concluding with the conclusion of the civil action. Wilson, according to Stone’s History of Washington County, was from Sandy Hill, was a lawyer who went to Whitehall, and, as you know, he wrote the piece of fiction serially later published by Inglee and Tefft, I believe in about 1900.
I should like to know what I can about Wilson bearing on his credibility, particularly as to the Jane McCrea story, his possible connection with Henry B. Northup (I think perhaps he studied in the latter’s office), and his relationship to the Brown story, particularly to “Brown’s Journal”.
If you are familiar with the Solomon Northup book which is told in the first person but edited by Wilson, I think you will know that in some areas it was taken less than seriously. I have recently had an interesting experience in undertaking to check on this.
The book refers to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. I got the “Key” from the State Library. This refers to the criminal trial in Washington, D. C. instituted by Henry B. Northup on his and Solomon’s return from Louisiana on the 18th of January, 1853, in an effort to procure the conviction of the kidnaper [sic]. They were unsuccessful in this effort because the kidnaper [sic] perjured himself and procured perjured testimony as to Solomon’s identity and Solomon, although indisputably a free citizen of New York was not permitted to testify because he was a Negro. From the State Library I later obtained access to this issue of the Times and to that of the 20th of January which gave three columns of the first page to this kidnapping case. This, of course, was as of a time before David Wilson had access to the story, and I think pretty well verifies the Solomon Northup book.
I wrote to Mrs. Lonergan. She tried to help me, but suggested that you might be able to give more help.
I shall be very grateful for any assistance you can give.
Sincerely, L.R. Lewis