Solomon's father, Mintus Northup, was an African American slave who spent the early part of his life in service to the Northup family. Originally from Rhode Island, he later relocated to Hoosick in Rensselaer County, New York. Upon the death of Mr. Northup, Mintus Northup was manumitted in the will, and he moved to Minerva, where his son Solomon was born a free person. Mintus' wife was of mixed ancestry, and was considered a quadroon since she was one-forth black. Their sons were Joseph and Solomon. Mintus became a widower sometime afterwards. Mintus was a successful farmer who met the property requirements necessary for voting. He provided an education for his two sons, whose level was considered high for freed blacks at the time. Solomon later managed his own farm in Hebron (Washington County), and played the violin well.. His father's last residence was on the road leading from Fort Edward (from War of 1763) to Argyle. He died in November 1829, and his grave is located in Hudson Falls Baker Cemetery..
On Christmas day in 1829, Solomon Northup married Anne Hampton, with whom he had three children named Elizabeth, Margaret and Alonzo. Anne was of mixed race, and had Caucasian, black and Native American ancestry. Together they had a family and lived off their farm. They later sold their farm and relocated to Saratoga Springs, New York, where he continued working in different jobs. He played is violin for several hotels in Saratoga including the United States Hotel and worked as a Hack. In the Fort Edward area he worked on the Champlain Canal, was a musician, and traveled to Canada at different times. When they lived in Saratoga, his wife worked in Sherrill's Coffee House.
One day, two men calling themselves Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton wanted to hire Solomon to play his fiddle in a circus in Washington, D.C. The travelling circus would pay him the rate one dollar per day and three dollars per musical performance, a good wage at the time. They convinced him to travel with them to Washington D.C., where they claimed the circus was. Solomon believed the trip would be short and did not notify his wife. He made a stop in New York City where he obtained his Free Papers, which were needed to prove his status as a free man; this was always a concern, but more so when he travelled to Washington DC, as it had slavery and some of the nation's larger slave markets.