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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