William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown

First edition hardback book by William Wells Brown (1814? - 1884) is titled The American Fugitive in Europe: Sketches of Places and People AbroadWith a Memoir of the Author.  It was published in 1855 by John P Jewett and Company of Boston in 1855.  This is an ex-library copy with the usual markings.  Rear hinge is sound; front hinge is weakening.   Some loss to top and base of spine. "During my sojourn abroad I found it advantageous to my purse to publish a book of travels, which I did under the title of 'Three Years in Europe, or Places I have seen and People I have met.' The work was reviewed by the ablest journals in Great Britain, and from their favorable criticisms I have been induced to offer it to the American public, with a dozen or more additional chapters."

BACKGROUND: William Wells Brown (November 6, 1814 – November 6, 1884) was a prominent African-American abolitionist lecturer, novelist, playwright, and historian. Born into slavery in the Southern United States,  Brown escaped to the North in 1834, where he worked for abolitionist causes and was a prolific writer. His novel Clotel (1853) is considered the first novel written by an African American: it was published in London, where he was living at the time. Brown was a pioneer in several different literary genres, including travel writing, fiction, and drama. Lecturing in England when the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was passed in the US, which required people in the North to aid in the capture of fugitive slaves, Brown stayed for several years to avoid the risk of capture and re-enslavement. After his freedom was purchased by a British couple in 1854, he and his family returned to the US, where he rejoined the abolitionist lecture circuit. A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Wells  Brown was overshadowed by the charismatic orator and the two feuded publicly.

William was born into slavery in Lexington, Kentucky. His mother Elizabeth was owned by Dr. Thomas Young and had seven children, each by different fathers. (In addition to William, her children were Solomon, Leander, Benjamin, Joseph, Milford, and Elizabeth.) William's father was George W. Higgins, a white planter and cousin of Elizabeth's master Dr. Young. Higgins had formally recognized William as his son and made his cousin Young promise not to sell the boy.  Young did sell him, and William went through several sales before he was twenty years old. William spent the majority of his youth in St. Louis. His masters hired him out to work on the Missouri River, then a major thoroughfare for steamships and the slave trade. In 1833, he and his mother attempted to escape, and they were captured in Illinois. In 1834, Brown made a second attempt at escape, and this time he successfully slipped away from a steamboat when docked in Cincinnati, Ohio, a free state. In freedom, he took the names of Wells Brown, a Quaker friend, who helped him after his escape by providing food, clothes and some money. In 1834, he married a woman by the name of Elizabeth Schooner, and they had two daughters. In 1849, Brown and his two daughters moved to Paris to attend the International Peace Conference. In 1851, his estranged wife, Elizabeth, died, and Brown returned to the United States in 1854. In 1860, Brown married Anna Brown. From 1836 to about 1845, Brown made his home in Buffalo, New York' where he worked as a steamboat man on Lake Erie. He helped many fugitive slaves gain their freedom by hiding them on the boat to take them to Buffalo, New York or Detroit, Michigan or to Canada. He later wrote that from May to December of 1842, he had helped 69 fugitives get to Canada. In 1847, he published his memoir, the Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself, which became a bestseller second only to Frederick Douglass' slave narrative. He critiques his master’s lack of Christian values and the brutal use of violence in master-slave relations. When Brown lived in Britain, he wrote more works, including travel accounts and plays. His first novel, entitled Clotel, or, The President’s Daughter: a Narrative of Slave Life in the United States (1853), is believed to be the first novel written by an African American. Perhaps because of the rising social tensions in the 1850s, Brown became a proponent of African-American emigration to Haiti, an independent black republic in the Caribbean since 1804. He decided that more militant actions were needed to help the abolitionist cause. During the American Civil War and in the decades that followed, Brown continued to publish fiction and non-fiction books, securing his reputation as one of the most prolific African-American writers of his time. He also played a more active role in recruiting blacks to fight in the Civil War.

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