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William W. Brown

William Wells Brown's play - ​A Escape; or Leap for Freedom 

Story of William Wells Brown told by a narrator

William Wells Brown     1814-1884

William Wells Brown is probably best remembered for the books he wrote.  His sensational stories tell of the suffering and pains of slavery.  He also wrote about the glorious history of famous Black people.

Brown was born in the foothills of Lexington, Kentucky, sometime around 1814.  His mother was a slave, and his father was a slave owner.  It was thought, at the time, that the pioneer Daniel Boone was his grandfather.

In 1834, William Brown escaped from slavery in Kentucky and went to Ohio.  He was befriended by a man named Wells Brown, who suggested that William use his name.  Using his new identity, he worked hard to learn all he could.  One of his jobs was as a steward on a Lake Erie steamboat.  

While Brown worked on the steamboat, he was able to help runaway slaves escape to freedom.  In 1834, Brown also met and married a woman named Elizabeth Schooner.  Later, they had three daughters.  The youngest, Josephine, later wrote the life story of her father.

From 1843 to 1849, William Wells Brown lectured for anti-slavery societies in New York and Massachusetts, and served as an agent of the Underground Railroad.  In 1849, he went to Paris, France as a representative to the American Peace Society.  While in Europe, he tried to convince the British to help do away with slavery.  From September 1849 to September 1854, he traveled more than 25,000 miles in Great Britain and gave more than a thousand anti-slavery speeches.

All this time, Brown was still a runaway slave.  His British friends helped him to become free, legally.  In 1854, he then returned to America to continue fighting against slavery.  During the Civil War, he recruited Black soldiers in New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey for the Union Army.  After the Civil War, he studied to be a doctor.  But, most of his time was spent writing.

William Brown wrote his first book in 1847.  It was his life story and was called Narrative of William W. Brown, A fugitive slave.  He also wrote stories about famous Blacks and various books on Black history.  Two of his greatest books were The Black Man in 1863, and The Rising Son in 1874.  The Black Man contained the stories of 53 great Black men, such as Nat Turner, William Still, William C. Nell, and Frederick Douglass.

The Black Man helped dispel the idea that Black men are not as good as white men.  It also praised the anti-slavery movement.  The Rising Son was a general history of Black Americans, beginning from the time they first arrived from Africa.  It also told of the beatings, murders, and other terrible acts that were very much a part of the conditions of slavery.

Brown also wrote the first novel by a Black American.  It was called Clotel; Or, The President's Daughter.  It was published in England in 1853.  But, because of its delicate subject matter, it did not appear in the United States until 1969.  Brown was also the first Black to publish a play.  It was called The Escape; Or, a Leap for Freedom.  In 1884, this great writer and abolitionist died in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Excerpt from A Gift of Heritage - Historic Black Abolitionists

This is only a summary of the life of William Wells Brown.