Monday, July 14, 2014

Slave Fugitive: William Wells Brown

William Wells Brown from the book "Bound for the North Star by Dennis Brindell Fradin
William’s mother had seven children by seven different men.  His master, Dr. John Young, would loan his slaves to his brothers so they could rape them and breed them.  Because he was the nephew of the doctor he was a house slave, while his mother had to be in the fields at 4:30 every morning.  One morning his mother was late to work by ten minutes, and received a beating from the overseer.  Brown described how helpless he felt as his mother was tortured.  He was called William, but then the family adopted another nephew named William and insisted he change his name.  His refusal lead to many beatings.
The family moved to St. Louis.  Slowly the members of the family were sold, as the doctor had financial problems.  When his sister was sold he went to see her in jail.  Jail said he should take his mother and run away.  Mother had previously been sold to a tinsmith but still lived in St. Louis.  She was hesitant to go, but he finally convinced her.  He knew where a boat was kept, and they snuck out to the boat, and he used a board as an oar to get across the river to Illinois.  From there they headed north.  He did not think slave catchers would be after them, but he was wrong.  They were caught and returned to St. Louis.
His mother was sold South.  He was able to see her at the barge as she was leaving.  Her final word to him was “Now try to get your liberty.”  At first he was too depressed as a result of being separated from his mother.  However he was sold to a River Boat operator.  He was obedient for many months, but when they visited Cincinnati he took his chance.  Grabbing a trunk, he headed down the gang blank looking like he was doing a chore.  He just kept going, hiding in a swamp, and from there headed north.  He got caught in winter weather with no food.  He knew he must get help or die.  He tried to approach someone, but his mouth was too frozen for him to talk.  Shortly, another gentleman, a Quaker, came and took him into their house where they nursed him back to health.  He had a high fever and frozen feet.  He took the name of this gentleman. 
Later William Wells learned to write.  He was the first African American to publish a novel in the United States.  He was also the first African American to publish a play in the United States as well.

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