William Wells Brown was a prominent African-American abolitionist lecturer, novelist, playwright, and historian. Born into slavery in the Southern United States, Brown escaped to the North in 1834, where he worked for abolitionist causes and was a prolific writer. His novel Clotel is considered the first novel written by an African American; it was published in London, where he was living at the time. Brown was a pioneer in several different literary genres, including travel writing, fiction, and drama.
Lecturing in England when the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was passed in the US, which required people in the North to aid in the capture of fugitive slaves, Brown stayed for several years to avoid the risk of capture and re-enslavement. After his freedom was purchased by a British couple in 1854, he and his family returned to the US, where he rejoined the abolitionist lecture circuit. A contemporary of Frederick Douglass, Wells Brown was overshadowed by the charismatic orator and the two feuded publicly.