Escaping Was Risky, But He Helped Dozens Get Free

Photograph of Willliam Wells Brown
Briona Lamback
November 9, 2021

William Wells Brown was an accomplished novelist, lecturer, and historian who traveled the world. But with so many accomplishments, why would his years of experience as a steamboat worker end up being so important?

He freed himself from the shackles of enslavement by slipping off the boat of his captors while it was docked in Cincinnati, OH. But it’s what he did next that’s truly remarkable.

Once free, Brown worked on Lake Erie and became a steamboat captain himself – and hid enslaved Black people on his boat, where he steered them to freedom! He became a vessel for our people’s liberation for nine years, carrying dozens of enslaved people to Canada. But he didn’t stop there.

Brown continued spreading the truth about abolitionism. He devoted himself to laboring for liberation. After spending three years abroad, the prolific writer published a travel book, novel, and drama – all steeped in anti-slavery ideas. But they were more than just words.

His books were tools for liberation. Considering himself a trickster to the system, Brown wrote about how he manipulated his enslavers and always rejected the oppression forced onto him. 

Like William Wells Brown, we must keep a few tricks up our sleeves and always be prepared to play our oppressors – while never forgetting to reach back and help bring our people with us!

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