William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown
William Wells Brown.jpg
Born1814 or March 15, 1815
Died(1884-11-06)November 6, 1884
OccupationAbolitionist, writer, historian
Spouse(s)
Elizabeth "Betsey" Schooner
(m. 1834; died 1851)

Anna Elizabeth Gray
(m. 1860)
ChildrenClarissa Brown, Josephine Brown, Henrietta Helen Brown, William Wells Brown, Jr., Clotelle Brown
RelativesJoe Brown (brother)

William Wells Brown (c. 1814 – November 6, 1884) was a prominent African-American abolitionist lecturer, novelist, playwright, and historian in the United States. Born into slavery in Montgomery County, Kentucky, near the town of Mount Sterling, Brown escaped to Ohio in 1834 at the age of 19. He settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where he worked for abolitionist causes and became a prolific writer. While working for abolition, Brown also supported causes including: temperance, women's suffrage, pacifism, prison reform, and an anti-tobacco movement.[1] His novel Clotel (1853), considered the first novel written by an African American, was published in London, England, where he resided at the time; it was later published in the United States.

Brown was an African-American pioneer in several different literary genres, including travel writing, fiction, and drama. In 1858 he became the first published African-American playwright, and often read from this work on the lecture circuit. Following the Civil War, in 1867 he published what is considered the first history of African Americans in the Revolutionary War. He was among the first writers inducted to the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, established in 2013.[2] A public school was named for him in Lexington, Kentucky.

Brown was lecturing in England when the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was passed in the US; as its provisions increased the risk of capture and re-enslavement, he stayed overseas for several years. He traveled throughout Europe. After his freedom was purchased in 1854 by a British couple, he and his two daughters returned to the US, where he rejoined the abolitionist lecture circuit in the North. A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Brown was overshadowed by the charismatic orator and the two feuded publicly.[3]

  1. ^ Farrison, W. Edward (1949-01-01). "William Wells Brown, Social Reformer". The Journal of Negro Education. 18 (1): 29–39. doi:10.2307/2966437. JSTOR 2966437.
  2. ^ "Kentucky's First Writer « The Big Idea". jasonfmcdaniel.com.
  3. ^ The Works of William Wells Brown: Using His 'Strong, Manly Voice', Eds. Paula Garrett and Hollis Robbins, Oxford University Press, 2006, xvii-xxxvi.