12 Years a Slave

by

Solomon Northrup

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12 Years a Slave: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Solomon tells his reader that Ford is a Baptist preacher and is known for being kind and morally upright. Solomon asserts, “there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford,” and attributes Ford’s acceptance of slavery to his upbringing and environment. Solomon thinks Ford would have felt differently about slavery had he grown up somewhere else.
Ford is an example of how growing up in the slavery-ridden South can make a person immune to the injustice of one human enslaving another. Ford’s environment and upbringing shaped his moral compass, so he doesn’t even question the concept of having slaves, even though he is seemingly a moral man in other regards.
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As Solomon travels with Ford and the other slaves to Ford’s home in the Great Pine Woods, Solomon considers telling Ford about his kidnapping but ultimately decides not to, fearful that doing so would only send him further away from home. The group travels by boat and by train, with the last twelve miles of the journey made on foot, though Ford lets the slaves stop and rest whenever they’d like.
The impact of Solomon’s first whipping—administered by Burch, angry at Solomon for asserting his freedom—is clear here, as Solomon is petrified of telling even the kindly William Ford of his true identity.
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Eventually, the group comes upon Ford’s household. The property is a “quiet, lonely, pleasant place” and is “a green spot in the wilderness.” Eliza is still distressed by having been torn from her children, so Ford assures her that she won’t need to work hard and can help inside the house. Solomon notices that Ford’s slaves speak tenderly of Ford, “as a child would speak of his own father.”
Just as Ford’s home in the Great Pine Woods is a “green spot in the wilderness,” Ford himself is the only bright spot in Solomon’s twelve-year enslavement. Ford is sensitive and empathetic to Eliza’s pain, reinforcing the way that he treats his slaves like family.
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Ford takes it upon himself to read scripture to his slaves and teach them to treat one another with kindness. He also teaches them to trust in God, “setting forth the rewards promised unto those who lead an upright and prayerful life.” Although other slave owners think Ford is too soft, Solomon points out that Ford “lost nothing by his kindness.” His compassionate, gentle nature makes his slaves more loyal and motivated to work hard.
Like Solomon’s own father did for him and his siblings when he was a child, Ford frequently gathers up the slaves to teach them about God and the Bible. Unlike some of the other slave owners that Solomon will meet, Ford doesn’t use Christianity to justify slavery—he uses it to give his slaves hope and comfort. (Though he also doesn’t use Christianity to condemn slavery, either.)
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One day, while manufacturing lumber under the guidance of Ford’s foreman, Adam, Solomon comes up with the idea of transporting the lumber on the stream rather than on land. Ford is delighted by the idea and allows Solomon to try it. “Extremely anxious to succeed,” Solomon builds a raft to carry the lumber (as well as Adam and himself). The plan is a great success. 
Back when he was free, Solomon took an odd job making rafts in order to support his family. At the beginning of the narrative, Solomon tells the reader that his raft-making experience would later allow him to help “a worthy master,” which is clearly William Ford.
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Solomon describes the Native Americans living in the Great Pine Forest, with whom he becomes acquainted on his frequent rafting trips. He describes the Native Americans as “a rude but harmless people” who “enjoyed their wild mode of life,” believed in the Great Spirit, and drank whiskey.
Solomon is fascinated by Native American culture in the Red River region. Native Americans show up infrequently in Solomon’s narrative, possibly because of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which pushed Native Americans westward.
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One day, Mistress Ford asks Ford for a loom so that the slaves can make cloth. Solomon asks to try his hand at making one, and the loom turns out beautifully. When a carpenter named John Tibeats comes to Ford’s home to work on a construction project, Solomon is asked to help him due to his newfound talent in carpentry. Disliked by slaves and white men alike, Tibeats is rude and wrathful, which is a sharp contrast from the gentle Ford, who considered his slaves “his fellow-mortals, accountable, like himself, to the Maker of us all.”
Solomon is eager to please Ford and Mistress Ford because of their kindness to him. While previously, Solomon worked with his hands and did odd jobs to support his family, he now uses his talents to help his kindly masters however he can, showing that he thinks of them as family. Once again, Solomon stresses that Ford doesn’t use Christian teachings to put himself above his slaves.
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Solomon thinks he would be happy serving Ford all his life if his family were there with him. He warns the reader that at this point in his narrative, “clouds were gathering in the horizon,” preceding a “pitiless storm.”
Solomon’s relationship to Ford seems more like a worker to employer than a slave to a master, but it’s important to remember that no matter how well he is treated, Solomon is no more free than he was under Burch. He is still considered property—just property being treated well instead of abused. The dark cloud from earlier in the narrative appears again, signaling that the relatively bright spot in Solomon’s slavery—having a kindly master and living peacefully in the woods—is about to come to a close.
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