Anna Hampton Northup

4: Anne Hampton Northup (c.1808-1876) was the wife of Solomon Northup. Solomon is known to us from his autobiography, 12 Years a Slave (or, more specifically, through the movie version). But what about his wife who was left behind?

Anna was born free in Washington County, in upstate New York, and apprenticed in tavern kitchens in the area, including the Eagle Tavern and Sherrill’s Coffee House, in Sandy Hill. She married Solomon in 1829. Solomon described her as a “woman of color” with African, European, and Native American ancestry. Census records generally identify her as a “mulatto.”

In 1834, the Northups moved to the resort town of Saratoga Springs, where they both worked at the United States Hotel. Several years later, in 1841, Solomon was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Meanwhile, Anna had become a highly-regarded cook and kitchen manager at the hotel. This was a major professional accomplishment in the world of American cuisine, since Saratoga was attracting the nation’s elite, especially in the summer seasons.

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The original United States Hotel. The first section of the complex was built in 1823. The hotel burned in 1865, and was replaced in 1874.

In 1841, Solomon was kidnapped and sold into slavery. At the time, Anna was working at the Pavilion Hotel.

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Anna’s cooking positions put her in contact with the New York elite. The Pavilion job had brought her to the attention of the socialite Eliza Jumel, who hired her as her personal chef, and brought her and the Northups’ three children to her New York City home, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, presumably for the winter season.

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Eliza Bowen, born in a brothel, had worked her way up from the bottom rung of the social ladder, marrying Stephen Jumel, a wealthy French-Haitian merchant. After his death, she married Aaron Burr, the former Vice President, infamous for his duel with Alexander Hamilton. That second marriage was not a happy one. Eliza filed for a divorce, which was granted on the same day that Burr died, in 1836. Eliza’s own humble background might explain her affection for Anna, but it’s more accurate to say that her interest reflects the high level of Anna’s cooking skills.

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The mansion’s kitchen has been restored. Note the open hearth, with a small oven on the right inside. By the 1840s, it’s possible that the hearth included a cast-iron oven, and the kitchen may have even included a cast-iron stove as well. We will discuss open-hearth cooking in a later post, but for now, it’s a reminder that cooking was hardly glamorous work, which is why the rich either hired cooks or, in southern plantation kitchens, assigned it to enslaved labor.

Anne was illiterate and didn’t leave a cookbook, but scholars have studied the menus at places she worked and have figured out what types of dishes she must have cooked. Food historian Tonya Hopkins sees Anna as a representative of the Northern Creolization of American cooking, taking dishes first developed in the West Indies as fusion of African, European, and Native American cuisines, and then fusing them with Dutch, German, and French cooking.

Once Solomon’s freedom was secured and he returned to New York, he found that Anna was working at Wait Carpenter’s Glen’s Falls Hotel. In fact, Anna is listed twice in the 1850 Census, as “Ann Northrop” in Glens Falls, and as “Ann Northrup,” with other family members, in Saratoga Springs. The Glens Falls census was dated August 8, and the Saratoga census was dated September 6, which suggests that the Glens Falls Hotel was a summer season job.

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In 1864, a fire started in the kitchen of the Glen’s Falls Hotel. The fire spread, and ultimately wiped out 112 buildings and caused over a million dollars in damage. Sometime between 1860 and 1865, Anna  had moved from Glens Falls, where she was living with her brother, Happy Hampton, and his family, to Moreau, in Saratoga County, where she lived with her daughter, Margaret Stanton, and her family. So I’m not sure whether she was still working at the hotel in 1864. In any case, it’s a reminder that kitchen work could be very dangerous.

Anna was still cooking in 1870. In the 1870 Census, she was in Sandy Hill (now Hudson Falls), in Washington County, working at Middleworth House. Her age is listed as 70, but Census ages are often unreliable. In 1875, she was still in the Kingsbury area, living once again with Margaret.

Anna died August 8, 1876 in Moreau, in Saratoga County. Her obituary in an Albany newspaper calls her a “venerable wife,” but calls Solomon a “worthless vagabond.” Solomon had indeed disappeared in 1857 after a trip to Ontario. There is some reason to believe that Solomon had been killed in Ontario, or that he had died of natural causes, but the newspaper’s characterization may reflect his family’s feeling that he had simply abandoned them after they had worked for his release.

None of that diminishes Anna’s proper place in the history of American cooking. She may not have left us anything in writing, but her record speaks for itself.

 

 

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Author: Dan Anderson

I'm an Iowa boy by choice. I love cooking and I love history, so I thought I'd put the two together.

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