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Clotel: or, the President's Daughter

William Wells Brown

Book Overview: 

Clotel; or, The President's Daughter is a novel by William Wells Brown, a fugitive from slavery and abolitionist. It is often considered the first African-American novel. This novel focuses on the difficult lives of mulattoes in America and the "degraded and immoral condition of the relation of master and slave in the USA" (Brown). It is about the tragic lives of Currer, Althesea, and Clotel. In the novel, Currer is the former mulatto mistress of President Thomas Jefferson who together have two daughters, Althesea and Clotel. Because she was beautiful and the mistress of Jefferson, Currer and her daughters lived a comfortable life, this changed when her master passes away. In the end, Currer and Althesea are auctioned to the notorious slave trader, Dick Walker. Clotel is bought by her lover Horatio Green. The separation of these three women is just the beginning of the injustices they face.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Bible against our social economy, they must fall. Nothing ever yet stood long against Christianity. Those who say that religious instruction is inconsistent with our peculiar civil polity, are the worst enemies of that polity. They would drive religious men from its defence. Sooner or later, if these views prevail, they will separate the religious portion of our community from the rest, and thus divided we shall become an easy prey. Why, is it not better that Christian men should hold slaves than unbelievers? We know how to value the bread of life, and will not keep it from our slaves."

"Well, every one to his own way of thinking," said Carlton, as he changed his position. "I confess," added he, "that I am no great admirer of either the Bible or slavery. My heart is my guide: my conscience is my Bible. I wish for nothing further to satisfy me of my duty to man. If I act rightly to mankind, I shall fear nothing." Carlton had drunk too deeply of the bitter . . . Read More

Community Reviews

When I read this book for my slave lit class, I was particular affected by the relationship between Clotel and Horatio Green. The “romance” (if you can call it that!) between the two of them both broke my heart and frustrated me to no end! When Green first met Clotel, it seemed like he was sincer...more

"Clotel" is the story of a slave woman who was allegedly the daughter of Thomas Jefferson. At the time the book was published in 1853, rumors were rife about Jefferson's relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. We now know, through DNA testing, that those rumors were true -- but the author cou...more

William Wells Brown's Clotel is noted as being one of (if not the) first African-American novels ever written. The work focuses on the fictional slave mistress of Thomas Jefferson named Currer(modeled closely on the historical Sally Hemmings) and her two daughters, Althesa and Clotel. The work is...more

spoilers i guess…

real talk: does anyone know the reason william wells brown took all references to thomas jefferson out of the third edition in 1864 and fourth edition in 1867? why did he change the spelling of the title to match the name of his second and youngest child “clotelle brown,” born in...more

How the actual hell have I never heard of this book before?

Clotel: or, the President's Daughter is a masterpiece of historical fiction that rings with historical truth. Based on facts and narratives that William Wells Brown collected on his own journey out of slavery, Clotel unashamedly looks man...more

Historically significant novel about the lives of slaves, written by a former slave. The author states that this fictional story is based on true incidents, making the book even more emotionally heartbreaking. The plot was a bit confusing at times, as it jumped around to each character's separate...more

4.5/5
You may place the slave where you please; you may dry up to your utmost the fountains of his feelings, the springs of his thought; you may yoke him to your labour, as an ox which liveth only to work and worketh only to live; you may put him under any process which, without destroying his val...more

There is something audacious and true about this book, however fictional. The first time I came to the sentence calling Clotel the daughter of Thomas Jefferson I felt the boldness of that sentence, and the truth of it, that it was known even in 1853 that Jefferson had children who were slaves. Th...more

William Wells Brown is an amazing man and author. After having stumbled upon this book, I am sorely disappointed that I have only discovered him now (at age 47 in 2014) - and by accident. I sincerely believe that I should have been introduced to him in public school by the time I was a pre-teen....more

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