Written by Solomon Northrop himself in 1853, “12 Years a Slave” is one of the greatest books I have ever read, and I highly encourage all to read. Here is an excerpt telling the benefit of being skilled on an instrument and a description of the one day of the whole year allowed off from hard labor.
Chapter XV: The Violin, and the Consolation it Afforded & The Christmas Dance
"Alas! Had it not been for my beloved violin, I scarcely can conceive how I could have endured the long years of bondage. It introduced me to great houses-relieved me of many days’ labor in the field-supplied me with conveniences for my cabin-with pipes and tobacco, and extra pairs of shoes, and oftentimes led me away from the presence of the hard master, to witness scenes of jollity and mirth. It was my companion-the friend of my bosom- triumphing loudly when I was joyful, and uttering soft, melodious consolations when I was sad. Often, at midnight, when sleep had fled affrighted from the cabin, and my would was disturbed and troubled with the contemplation of my fate, it would sing me a song of peace. On holy Sabbath days, when an hour or two of leisure was allowed, it would accompany me to some quiet place on the bayou bank, and, lifting up its voice, discourse kindly and pleasantly indeed. It heralded my name around the country-made me friends, who, otherwise would not have notices me-gave me an honored seat at the yearly feasts, and secured the loudest and heartiest welcome of them all at the Christmas dance. The Christmas dance! Oh, ye pleasure-seeking songs and daughters of idleness, who move with measured step, listless and snail-like, through the slow-winding cotillon, if ye wish to look upon the celerity, if not the "poetry of motion"- upon genuine happiness, rampant and unrestrained-go down to Louisiana, and see the slaves dancing in the starlight of a Christmas night."