Brown, William Wells
(b. 1814?, near Lexington, Ky., U.S.--d.
Nov. 6, 1884, Chelsea, Mass.), American writer who is considered to be the first
African-American to publish a novel. He was also the first to have a play and a
travel book published.
Brown was born to a black slave mother
and a white slaveholding father. He grew up near
St. Louis, Mo., where he served various masters, including the abolitionist
Elijah P. Lovejoy. Brown escaped in 1834 and adopted the name of a Quaker, Wells
Brown, who aided him when he was a runaway. He settled in the Great Lakes region
before moving to the Boston area. In 1847 his popular autobiography Narrative
of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave was published. Its highly
dramatic content is set forth in a remarkably detached style. Having educated
himself, Brown began lecturing on abolitionism and temperance reform. His
antislavery lectures in Europe inspired Three
Years in Europe (1852), which was expanded as The American Fugitive in Europe (1855).
Brown's only novel, Clotel (1853), tells the story of the daughters and granddaughters
of President Thomas Jefferson and his slave Currer. His only published play is The
Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom (1858), a melodrama, with notable comic
moments, about two slaves who secretly marry. Brown's historical writings
include The Black Man (1863), The
Negro in the American Rebellion (1867), and The
Rising Son (1873). His final book, My
Southern Home (1880), contains miscellanea about slave life, abolitionism,