Who resisted and campaigned for abolition?

William Wells Brown activist

Born into slavery

William Wells Brown was born into slavery near Lexington, Kentucky in the USA. Dr Young owned his mother, Elizabeth, and she had seven children by different fathers. Brown's father was George Higgins, a white plantation owner and relative of the owner of the plantation where Brown was born.

Brown was sold many times before he was 20 years old. He spent most of his youth in St Louis. His masters hired him out to work on the Missouri river, then a major thoroughfare for the transatlantic slave trade. He made several attempts to escape, and on New Year's Day in 1834, he successfully slipped away from a steamboat at a dock in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Brown took the name of a Quaker friend of his in order to obtain his freedom. He spent nine years as a conductor on the Underground Railroad (a network of escape routes for enslaved Africans) and a steam boatman on Lake Erie (a position he used to ferry escaped slaves to freedom in Canada). He then became active in the abolitionist movement by joining several anti-slavery societies and the Negro Convention Movement.

Freedom bought by Britons

Brown came to Britain, and the north west of England, as an anti-slavery lecturer. After British friends purchased his freedom in 1854, Brown returned to the USA and continued to deliver lectures. He supported the idea of African American emigration to Haiti because the USA was a dangerous environment for free black people in the 1850s.

During the American Civil War and in the decades that followed, Brown continued to publish fiction and non-fiction books, thereby securing his reputation as one of the most prolific African American writers of his time. He died in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1884.