Daughter of the Revolution: The Major Nonfiction Works of Pauline E. Hopkins

By Pauline E. Hopkins; Ira Dworkin | Go to book overview

III.
William Wells Brown

The subject of this memoir, William Wells Brown, was widely known both at home and abroad. He was no ordinary man. Like other Negroes who have left us the example of noble lives, he accomplished an almost impossible task in surmounting the training received in slavery. In himself he was a refutation of the charge of the inferiority of the Negro. Doctor Brown's belief was that we ourselves possess the elements of successful development, but that we need live men and women to make the development. His claim was that the struggle for our rights, the last great battle-royal, is with ourselves, and the problem can be solved by us alone.

William Wells Brown was born in Lexington, Ky, in the year 1816. His mother was a slave, his father a slaveholder. The child was taken to Missouri in his infancy, and his boyhood was passed in St. Louis.

At ten years of age he was hired out to a captain of a steamboat running between St. Louis and New Orleans. He remained there a year or two, and was then employed as office-boy by Elijah P. Lovejoy, then editor of the St Louis Times, in his printing-office. He spent one year there, and no doubt there imbibed the thirst for knowledge that led to his adoption of a career of letters.

After this he was again let out to a steamboat captain, and in 1834 the young man made his escape and came North.

Fortunate as usual, he obtained a situation as steward of a Lake Erie steamer, and while there was able to do much good for fugitive slaves, giving free passage to sixty-five in one year. He organized an association to help the fleeing bondmen. This association had a fund, employed counsel, furnished clothing and whatever else was needed by the fugitives. Meantime he devoted his nights to study at evening schools and under private instruction.

A man of deep convictions and unquenchable resolves, he could not remain idle. The motive power of his nature forced him into fresh fields of labor.

In the autumn of 1843 the great anti-slavery movement absorbed the selfemancipated slave. While connected with this movement Doctor Brown passed through many stirring scenes, among which may be mentioned the riot at Harwich, Mass., in 1848, when Parker Pillsbury, S. S. Foster, Lucy Stone and others were beaten with kicks and blows, the clothing torn from their persons, pitched over platforms and trampled by an infuriated mob. Doctor Brown nobly bore his part in this scene. Of him Mr. Pillsbury says: “William Wells Brown was among the earliest and most eminent fugitives to appear on our platforms. And what had these men out of which to create a self-made

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