Brown, William Wells

Brown, William Wells

Brown, William Wells, 1814–84, African-American abolitionist, writer, and doctor, b. near Lexington, Ky. Born into slavery, the child of a black slave mother and a white slaveholding father, Brown fled (1834) from Missouri to freedom in Ohio, eventually settling in Boston. Self-educated, he became by the early 1840s an abolitionist lecturer and authored a popular autobiography (1847). He then spent years (1849–54) in Europe, giving antislavery lectures and presenting panoramas depicting American slavery. He also wrote what are believed to be the first travelogue (Three Years in Europe, 1852) and the first novel (Clotel, 1853) by an African American. After British friends purchased his freedom (1854), he returned to Boston, published the autobiographical The American Fugitive in Europe (1855), and continued to give lectures advocating abolition and temperance. Writing numerous works on African-American life and history, travel books, plays, and a memoir, he became one of the country's most prolific African-American authors. Brown, who had done some medical work while enslaved, later studied homeopathic medicine and became a practicing physician.


See biographies by E. Farrison (1969) and E. Greenspan (2015).

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Brown, William Wells (b. “William”)

(c. 1816–84) reformer, writer; born in Lexington, Ky. After adopting the name of the Wells Brown who assisted his escape from slavery (1834), he became a leading abolitionist, lecturing and writing widely on that and other reform causes. His pioneering works of black fiction and history include his autobiography Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave (1847) and The Negro in the American Rebellion (1867). In 1853 he published in London what was long thought to be the first novel by an African-American, Clotel, or The President's Daughter; it was based on the rumor that Thomas Jefferson had fathered a child with a slave woman; when published in the U.S.A. in 1864 it was delicately retitled, Clotelle: A Tale of the Southern States.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
Brown, William Wells. Clotel or the President's Daughter.
Brown, William Wells. "A Lecture Delivered before the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Salem at Lyceum Hall, Nov.
Brown, William Wells. The Anti-Slavery Harp; A Collection of Songs.
Brown, William Wells. The American Fugitive in Europe.
Brown, William Wells. The American Fugitive in Europe: Sketches of Places and People Abroad.
Brown, William Wells. Clotel or, the President's Daughter.
Brown, William Wells. My Southern Home: or, The South and Its People.
Brown, William Wells. The Negro in the American Rebellion.
Brown, William Wells. Clotel, Or The President's Daughter.
Brown, William Wells. The Travels of William Wells Brown, including Narrative of William Wells Brown, A Fugitive Slave, and The American Fugitive in Europe: Sketches of Places and People Abroad.