William Wells Brown

View by Horace Seldon

An early reference to Brown is in the September 1st, 1848 edition of the Liberator. There is a letter telling of a mob of people who attacked antislavery speakers at a public meeting on Cape Cod.  The speakers included Parker Pillsbury, S.S. Foster, and William Wells Brown. Cries from the crowd included “haul them out”, “down with them”, and some obviously aimed only at Brown: ” Tar and feather him”, “Ride him on a rail”.. “Pass out that nigger”.

The Liberator announced the third edition of Brown’s narrative of his life. Included in the article was the exchange between Enoch Price, Brown’s former owner, and Brown.  Price had set a fee of $325, which, paid to his agent, in Boston, would secure Brown’s free papers.  Brown’s famous response is included:  “….Mr. Price shall never receive a dollar from me, or my friends, with my consent.”

The escape of William and Ellen Craft was brought to the attention of readers as Garrison reported in the Liberator of a letter he had received from Brown, which told him that the Crafts “are now hid away, within 22 miles of Philadelphia, where they will remain until the 6th, when they will leave for New England.”

When Brown left for Europe, in July, 1849, the Liberator reported the date and place of the farewell for him, to be under the auspices of the colored citizens of Boston.

After Brown was in England, he wrote to Garrison, from London, October, 1849.  In his letter to Garrison, Brown shared the story of his shipboard conversations with a servant of Judge Chinn, from Louisiana.  The servant was traveling with a full passport. Since Brown had been denied a passport, the Liberator article reported that Brown  concluded that “..if a colored person wishes the protection of the U.S. government in going into any foreign country, he must not think of going in any other capacity than that of a bootblack. The act of the government, in denying to its colored citizens the same protection that it extends to the whites, is more cowardly, and mean, if possible, than any act committed for years …”

For a second time, in 1849, the Liberator printed excerpts from a letter by Brown to his former owner, in which, among other things, Brown asserted that “..I rejoice that, in this land, I am regarded as a man.  I am in England, what I can never be in America, while slavery exists there….”

When Brown was on the platform at a meeting of the Glasgow Emancipation Society, with Harriet Beecher Stowe, it was mentioned in the Liberator as “notable”.

When friends of Brown in England arranged to purchase his freedom, the Liberator acknowledged this with gratitude.

After Brown returned to the United States, the Liberator, in late 1856, announced that he was traveling in the country with his “inimitable Drama, ‘How to Give a Northern Man a Backbone’, and encouraged “crowded houses” for its performances.

In June, 1859, the Liberator included a call to a Convention of Colored Citizens of New England, to be held in Boston in August.  Its purpose was to pursue suffrage rights for colored citizens.  Brown was listed as one of the prominent signers of the call to the gathering.  It is clear that the Liberator was in touch with Brown wherever he appeared as a lecturer, even when speaking on subjects other than slavery. For instance, in that same June, the paper noted that Brown had given an “entertaining and instructive dissertation on Love, Courtship, and Marriage”, at the Joy Street church.

Brown wrote to Garrison from Vermont, where he had lectured for abolition in numerous towns.  Those 1860 lectures met with a good deal of resistance, and Brown urged that “Vermont is certainly a good field for missionary labor”.

As discussion about the war proceeded, the Liberator reported of Brown’s participation in a meeting of colored citizens at the Twelfth Baptist Church, in Boston.

At the meeting Brown was reluctant to support the call for colored troops until there was assurance that they would be treated equally to white soldiers.

During the early war, the Liberator reported on Brown’s tour of the state of New York, with lectures on “The War and Its Connections with Slavery”, and also urged readers to see his new drama on “Life at the South”.

In June, 1864, there was a meeting of colored church leaders where Governor John Andrew was presented with a portrait of himself.  The Liberator reported that William Wells Brown presided at the meeting.

From this record of contacts, it is probable that Garrison was one of the first northerners to know of the escape of the Crafts, as told by Brown. Clearly, Brown had confidence that Garrison would use this information well in the encouragement of antislavery efforts.  The same confidence is also clear in the correspondence from England, and continues after Brown’s return to the United States.  From Garrison’s view it is likewise clear that he returned the confidence, as he followed with records of occasions where Brown spoke and presided in the black community.

Sources to explore: the items referred to here can be seen in the website www.theliberatorfiles.com   The Narrative of William W. Brown, An American Slave, Written by Himself is readily attainable in any collection of slave narratives.

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