William Wells Brown was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1816. He escaped at the age of twenty, married a free African American woman and moved to Buffalo, New York, where he worked for a time as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. In 1849, Brown began to travel and lecture against slavery, spending several years touring Europe. At this point, he penned Three Years in Europe: or Places I Have Seen and People I have Met.
In 1854 Brown returned to the United States, after his freedom was purchased by a British family of his acquaintance. He became one of the most prolific African American writers of the period, publishing his autobiography and several novels of note. Brown eventually settled in Cambridge, and is buried at the Cambridge Cemetery. His residence in Cambridge is marked by a historic landmark sign, as part of the African-American Heritage Trail.