William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown (November 6, 1814 – November 6, 1884) was a prominent African-American abolitionist lecturer, novelist, playwright, and historian. Born into slavery in the Southern United States, Brown escaped to the North in 1834, where he worked for abolitionist causes and was a prolific writer. His novel Clotel (1853) is considered the first novel written by an African American; it was published in London, where he was living at the time. Brown was a pioneer in several different literary genres, including travel writing, fiction, and drama.

Lecturing in England when the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was passed in the US, which required people in the North to aid in the capture of fugitive slaves, Brown stayed for several years to avoid the risk of capture and re-enslavement. After his freedom was purchased by a British couple in 1854, he and his family returned to the US, where he rejoined the abolitionist lecture circuit. A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Wells Brown was overshadowed by the charismatic orator and the two feuded publicly.[1]

During the American Civil War and in the decades that followed, Brown continued to publish fiction and non-fiction books, securing his reputation as one of the most prolific African-American writers of his time. He also played a more active role in recruiting blacks to fight in the Civil War. He introduced Robert John Simmons from Bermuda to the abolitionist Francis George Shaw, father of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the commanding officer of the54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

William Wells Brown died on his birthday in Chelsea in 1884 at the age of 70.

William Wells Brown