Monday, November 6, 2017

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: November 6, 1814 - William Wells Brown

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From The Kentucky Encyclopedia -
William Wells Brown, novelist and historian, was born a slave in 1814 on the farm of Dr. John Young near Lexington, Kentucky. His mother, Elizabeth, is said to have been the daughter of Simon Lee, a slave soldier in the Revolutionary War, and his father may have been a cousin to his owner. At an early age, Brown moved to a farm near St. Louis with his owners' household. In 1834 Brown escaped to Ohio from the job he held on a river steamboat. He was aided by a Quaker named Wells Brown and in gratitude he adopted the Quaker's name as his own.

Brown made his way to Cleveland, where he worked at a variety of jobs, from barber to banker. As a steward on a Lake Erie steamboat, he was able to ferry sixty-nine fugitive slaves to freedom. Two years later Brown moved to Buffalo, New York, where he was active in temperance reform. In 1845 he moved to Farmington, Massachusetts, to take part in the strong abolitionist movement developing there.

After Brown wrote Narrative of William Wells Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself (1847), his reputation as an abolitionist spokesman grew, along with fears that fugitive slave bounty hunters would carry him back to slavery. In 1849 he represented the American Peace Society at the world Peace Conference in Paris. He remained in Europe in voluntary exile for five years. During that time he was a regular speaker at abolition meetings and published his first novel, Clotel; or, the President's Daughter: a Narrative of Slave Life in the United States, With a Sketch of the Author's Life (1853). This book was a fictional account of Thomas Jefferson's alleged long-term relationship with his slave mistress, Sally Hemmings, portraying the dehumanizing effects slavery had on her and their children. Considered too controversial for publication in this country, the book was first published in England and went through several printings and a number of changes before being published in the United States in 1864 with all references to Jefferson removed. Over the next thirty years, Brown wrote on the history of slavery, the black experience in America, and the role of black soldiers in the Civil War . He published a collection of slave songs and a five-act play based on his own escape from slavery. His writings, though not literary masterpieces, are significant because Brown was among the country's first and best-known black historians, authors, and playwrights.

Brown was married twice, first in 1834 to Elizabeth Schooner of Cleveland, then to Annie Elizabeth Gray of Cambridgeport, Massachusetts. He was survived by two daughters, Clarissa and Josephine. He died on November 6, 1884, and was buried in the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Cemetery.

Selected Sources from UK Libraries:

Brown, William Wells, and John. Ernest. My Southern Home ; Or, the South and Its People. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 2011. Print.
E185 .B88 2011, Young Library - 4th Floor

Brown, Josephine. Biography of an American Bondman. Boston: R.F. Wallcut, 1856. Print. Slavery and Anti-slavery: a Transnational Archive.

Brown, William Wells. Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave. Boston, Mass.: Anti-Slavery Office, 1847. Print. SOLINET/ASERL Cooperative Microfilming Project (NEH PA-24147) ; SOL MN09453.05 KUK.
E444 .B88 1848, Special Collections Research Center

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