On the Red River
September 15, 2013 11:20 AM   Subscribe

A new critically acclaimed film (96%) is coming out soon 12 Years a Slave (trailer), the true story of Solomon Northup. His memoir is a riveting read (or listen to Louis Gossett, Jr. reading it), but this post is about where Northup was enslaved, a cotton plantation near the Red River, Louisiana.

Northup spent most of his 12 years at a place called Epps "plantation", a word that should not be confused with Gone With the Wind, it was a small family farm run by a cruel and uneducated master. The plantation itself is long gone but the land remains largely the same and can be explored through Google Maps and streetview. Map (about where that faint "k" mark in the field is). The Edwin Epps House (historically accurate picture) has been saved but moved two times, now on the national historical register.

The Epps plantation was on a bayou of the Red River of the South, as it was sometimes called (the Indians called many rivers Red since the earth in the Mississippi Delta and elsewhere often ran to that color), it is the second largest river in the southern Great Plains. The river presented a problem for settlers since it was completely block by what was called the Great Raft - a 160 to 200 mile long log jam. The jam began forming in the 12th century, with the logs reaching from the surface to the bottom of the river, from shore to shore (picture, picture). The raft was so thick that new trees, bushes and grass grew on its surface in the middle of the river. The Red River was thus not navigable, and no one believed it was possible to clear. "No hope can be entertained of the great raft ever being removed..." said Thomas Freeman, when he first laid eyes on the Great Red River Raft. Many tried and failed. Except one man had an idea.

Henry Miller Shreve, a famous pioneer of the steamboat (and namesake of Shreveport, Louisiana), designed a new type of snagboat named the Heliopolis (picture), nicknamed "Uncle Sam's Tooth Puller". The full story of the Great Raft can be read in this fascinating piece "The Attack on the Great Raft".
posted by stbalbach (5 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Following in the real footsteps of '12 Years a Slave'.. on the trail
posted by stbalbach at 11:25 AM on September 15, 2013

Various editions scanned on Archive.org, if you want to see publications from the period (circa 1895). The memoir link in the OP is to OCRd and edited, so that text is better than the automated OCR versions on Archive.org.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:09 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

This post is a twofer!

Too nice out today to stay in all afternoon and read this, but I'm reaaaally tempted!
posted by BlueHorse at 12:52 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, amazing story! Thanks for this post, stbalbach.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:26 AM on September 16, 2013

Wow, really great post. The info on Shreve and his snag boats was fascinating. Thanks.
posted by mosk at 1:15 PM on September 17, 2013

« Older 58% of domestic workers spend more than half their...   |   Getting Closer with Tegan and Sara Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments