• Florence Cardella

William Wells Brown, Rochester Voices, and Jason Reynolds

Updated: Feb 15


William Wells Brown (1814-1884)

Widely regarded as the first African American novelist, Wells was also and abolitionist lecturer, historian, and Underground Railroad supporter. He escaped slavery in Kentucky and Missouri in 1834, moving to Buffalo, then to Farmington, Boston, and eventually speaking abroad. For three years in the mid-1840s, Brown worked as a speaker for the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society. J.C. Hathaway, a Farmington Quaker, wrote the preface to Brown's autobiography, Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, published in 1847. Brown’s lecture series on abolitionism and temperance took him not only around the US, but to Cuba, Haiti, and Britain, telling his story and sharing his writings.


“During the past three years, the author has devoted his entire energies to the anti-slavery cause. . . . His labors have been chiefly confined to Western New York, where he has secured many warm friends, by his untiring zeal, persevering energy, continued fidelity, and universal kindness.”

“It is not for a single generation alone, numbering three millions--sublime as would be that effort--that we are working. It is for HUMANITY, the wide world over, not only now, but for all coming time, and all future generations.”

J.C. Hathaway, Farmington, N.Y., 1847, Preface,” Narrative of a William Wells Brown, A Fugitive Slave, Written by Himself (Boston: Anti-slavery Office, 1847).


Brown’s works are available on the University of North Carolina, “Documenting the American South” page, here: https://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/brownw/bio.html


Below is a comprehensive list of Brown's works:


 Brown, William Wells, 1814?-1884 The American Fugitive in Europe. Sketches of Places and People Abroad

Boston: John P. Jewett, 1855. 320 p.

 Brown, William Wells, 1814?-1884 The Black Man: His Antecedents, His Genius, and His Achievements New York: Thomas Hamilton; Boston: R.F. Wallcut, 1863. 288 p.


 Brown, William Wells, 1814?-1884 Clotel; or, The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States. By William Wells Brown, A Fugitive Slave, Author of "Three Years in Europe." With a Sketch of the Author's Life London: Partridge & Oakey, 1853. viii, 245, 12 p.


 Brown, William Wells, 1814?-1884 My Southern Home: or, The South and Its People Boston: A. G. Brown & Co., Publishers, 1880. viii, 1-253, 2 p.


 Brown, William Wells, 1814?-1884 Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave. Written by Himself Boston: The Anti-slavery office, 1847. xi, [13]-110 p.


 Brown, William Wells, 1814?-1884 Narrative of William W. Brown, an American Slave. Written by Himself London: C. Gilpin, 1849. ix, 168 p.


 Brown, William Wells, 1814?-1884 Three Years in Europe: Or, Places I Have Seen and People I Have Met London: Charles Gilpin, 1852. xxxii, 312 p.


His daughter also wrote a biography of her father:

 Brown, Josephine Biography of an American Bondman, by His Daughter Boston: R. F. Wallcut, 1856, c1855. 104 p.


From the May 14, 1846 National Anti-Slavery Standard


WESTERN NEW-YORK ANTI-SLAVERY SOCIETY


The Western New-York Anti-Slavery Society has held its third Anniversary, and to waken, to inform, and to inspire the American People with a true sense of the iniquity of Slavery existing in our country, and to endeavor to interest their sympathies in the cause of the poor slave, we make this appeal to an intelligent public; confidently hoping that the hearts of the people will yet be made to beat in unison with liberty, that their eyes will be opened to perceive the evil working of oppression, and their ears unstopped to hear the cries of the down-trodden; to send forth an earnest voice and an efficient deed in behalf of the right, to assist with heart hand, and pure in the destruction of the vile temple of Slavery, and in the strength of their moral resolves to work out the salvation of the enslaved, and to hasten the coming of that glorious day when men shall be slaves and oppressors no more.


Now is the time for every lover of liberty to weave for himself a garland of gratitude in the heart of the slave; to stretch forth his hand and raise him to the level of humanity.

To strike from his limbs the fetters that bind,

And lift the dark pall, that envelops his mind.


To accomplish this end, it is necessary that lectures should be delivered, and books and papers on the subject circulated; therefore the Executive Committee of the Western New-York Anti-Slavery Society have engaged for a lecturer and general agent, William W. Brown, an eloquent and efficient laborer in the anti-slavery field; one who has felt in his own person the evils of Slavery, and with the strong voice of experience can tell of its horrors. While thus engaged he is dependent for his sustenance on the aid of the philanthropist; we would, therefore, ask of you to contribute of your abundance to the support of those who are laboring in the cause of our suffering brethren of the South, and to ask your friends and neighbors to do the same, however small the sum may be, and the blessing of those ”who have none to help them” will rest upon you.

You are also respectfully informed that the Anti-slavery ladies of the city of Rochester have determined to sacrifice their time and means for the purpose of holding a fair on Christmas week of this year, and New Year’s day of the next year; the proceeds of which are to applied for the spreading of anti-slavery truth, in the most judicious way, for the benefit of the slave.


Any assistance that can be rendered them in carrying out this plan, either in useful or ornamental work from the hands of ladies, agricultural produce from the industry and kind hearts of farmers, or specimens of mechanical ingenuity from those who work in wood, brass, iron, or any other material, will be thankfully received, and give evidence that there is “still flesh in man’s obdurate heart that feels for fellow-man.”

Donations of any kind may be placed in the hands of the general agent Wm. W. Brown, or directed to Henry Bush, Treasurer, Rochester, N.Y., also, communications may be addressed to the same persons,

JOSEPH C. HATHAWAY, President.

SARAH A. BURTIS, Secretary.

Found and transcribed by Charles Lenhart





Have You Heard About?


Did you know that the Rochester Public Library has a series called Rochester Voices? Further, that in the 1970s and 1980s Dr. James Wright, manager of the Phillis Wheatley branch began a project to record oral histories of Rochesterians highlighting the Black community’s contribution to the Greater Rochester area?


The library has 113 oral histories available, and 70 hours of those have been digitized so far, and are available here: http://www.rochestervoices.org/collections/african-american-oral-histories/




Recommended Reading:


Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-Winning Stamped from the Beginning by Jason Reynolds


Summary from the publisher:


The #1 New York Times bestselling, “must-read” (San Francisco Chronicle), “amazingly timely and stunningly accessible” (Jacqueline Woodson) exploration of race and racism from award-winning, beloved authors Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, now in paperback.

This is NOT a history book. This is a book about the here and now. A book to help us better understand why we are where we are. A book about race.

The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited. Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.



Reviewed by a Board Member: I read this book as an audiobook over the summer, and instantly recommended it to everyone I knew. I was already a huge fan of Jason Reynolds’ writing style and his unique ability to grab your hand and pull you so deep into the world that he has created within his books, that you almost forget you’re reading in the first place. Stamped is no exception to that, in fact it might be my favorite book of his that I’ve read.


Without having read Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, I know that the book is masterfully written, if not a bit dense and complex- but that comes along with the territory of unpacking hundreds of years of oppression. What Reynolds does so masterfully in this book is take Kendi’s larger work and break it down into easier to digest chunks. It’s not a history book. It’s not fiction. It’s a conversation between the author and the reader – one that helps you to understand, and one that really makes you think about what you know (read: what you thought you knew).


This book miraculously makes the concepts of racism and antiracism approachable, and opens a double door and a window to the possibility of not only introspection, but having an honest conversation with those around you.


This book flows like honey and is devour-able from the very first page. If you’re looking for an accessible teaching tool, whether to teach yourself or someone else, look no further. This book doesn’t lecture, but instead guides and encourages you to be not only not racist, but firmly antiracist.

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