Brown, William Henry

Brown, William Henry

(fl. 1820s) theater producer, playwright; born in the West Indies. Little is known of his origins except that he arrived in the United States as a seaman and by 1821 was establishing the African Theatre to allow all-black casts to perform mainly plays from the white repertoire, including condensed versions of Shakespeare. But he also staged a sketch that dealt with slavery and in 1823 he produced his own play, The Drama of King Shotaway (1823), evidently drawing on his own personal experience of the 1795 black Caribs' insurrection on the island of St. Vincent. His theater produced the first two notable African-American actors, James Hewlett and Ira Aldridge. Brown may also have founded a theater in Albany, N.Y., but otherwise he passed into oblivion.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.