William Wells Brown was the first black novelist. He was also a Negro reformer and historian. According to who you talk to, his birth varies from 1814,1815, and 1816. Brown was born in Lexington Kentucky. His mother was a slave and his father is said to be one George Higgins, a white slaveholder. As a youth, Brown worked on steamships, but was later employed in a print-shop owned by Elijah P. Lovejoy, then editor of the St Louis Times. Working in this capacity, Brown got his start in education. Soon he was returned back to working on steamboats. In 1834, he escaped into Ohio, intending to cross Lake Eire into Canada. On the way he was sheltered by a Quaker, Wells Brown, whose name he assumed in addition to the name William. He now took up steamboating on Lake Erie and obtained the position of steward in which he was able to help many a fugitive to freedom.
In the year of his escape, he married a former slave who was now free and had two daughters.
Profiting from school instruction and help from friends, he acquired considerable knowledge of the fundamentals of English. In the North he soon learned to speak the English language so fluently that he could easily present the claim of the Negro for freedom. During 1843-49, he was variously employed as a lecturer of the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society, and the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. In 1849, he visited England and represented the American Peace Society at the Peace Congress in Paris. Highly recommended by the American Anti-Slavery Society as an apostle of freedom, he was welcomed by famous Europeans such as Victor Hugo, James Haughton, George Thompson, and Richard Cobden. He remained abroad until 1854. During these years of his activity as a reformer, Brown found time also to study medicine. Like many of the physicians of his time, he did not undergo formal training in this field. He attended lectures in medical science and obtained privately other knowledge required to service as a practitioner. Although he knew sufficient medicine to be useful in the profession, the urgent need for fighting battles of the Negro kept him in the working of reform. Browns' reputation rests largely on his ability as an hisotrian. His writings covered various fields. The first to appear was his Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave (1847). His next important book was Three Years in Europe (1852). In 1853, he published Clotel, or the President's Daughter, a Narrative of Slave Life in the United States. The latter, could be his most famous book because it deals with something that was very common but rarely spoken of during his day.
Brown based this novel on the claim that Thomas Jefferson, who wrote many works on human freedom while continuing to buy, sell, and work slaves, had fathered many slave children. According to the stories, one of these illegitimate children, a beautiful young girl, was sold at an auction. Although the story may or may not be true, Brown used the story to attack slavery and the people for slavery. Clotel, or The President's Daughter is also used as a reference to what slave life really was. Brown described in vivid detail about how and what it felt like to go to the auction block. He discussed how his master would make him shave the older slaves' heads to make them look younger. Brown talked in length about how families are broken up on the auction block. Since Brown himself was separated from his mother, this may have been the hardest for him to accept. He also talked about the many nights he was traveling while trying to reach Canada. In this book, he discusses how he was self-educated. He would bribe white children with sugar candy to teach him how to read and understand letters. Clotel, or The President's Daughter follows this young slave through life. She experiences first hand the pain of slavery, everything from the cruelties of her master to losing her own daughter to the slave auctions.
Another book Brown is famous for is The Negro in the American Rebellion. In this book, Brown goes over things, such as when the first blacks arrived in the colonies, Crispus Attucks, the mulatto slave who some say was the first victim of the Revolutionary War, he also discusses the role that blacks played in the War of 1812. Later in the book, Brown goes in depth over the Nat Turner insurrection and what came about from that. Overall, this book was just a list of chronological events that the blacks went through went they first came over to this country in 1620 all the way to when they were leaders in the Army in 1863.
William Wells Brown was much more than just the first black novelist. Brown's fight for anti-slavery was not the only thing he stood for. He made stands against temperance, woman's suffrage and prison reform. He was associated with the most ardent abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips. He was a man that beat the odds and stood his ground for something he believed in. His works although may be controversial, was direct and to the point. He made people think and realize that no one, regardless of race should be hypocritical to what he or she says or does. Brown received a lot of controversial feedback for not knowing all the facts, not knowing any personal relatives of Jefferson, and the chronological inconsistencies in his story. The anachronisms in Brown's Clotel, or the President's Daughter, detracted nothing from his portrayal of American slavery as he had come to know it. Presumably, therefore, they were from his point of view and from how he felt about things. Yes, William Wells Brown is much more than just the first black novelist.