First published in 1853 amidst rumors that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with one of his slaves, Clotel is a fictional chronicle of one such child. After Jefferson's death, his mistress and her two daughters are auctioned. One daughter, Clotel, is purchased by a white man from Virginia who impregnates her. Despite the promise of marriage, Clotel is instead sold to another man and separated from her daughter. After escaping from the slave dealer, Clotel returnss to Virginia to reunite with her daughter - now a slave in her father's house.
"Brother, you have often declared that you would not end your days in slavery. I see no possible way in which you can escape with us; and now, brother, you are on a steamboat where there is some chance for you to escape to a land of liberty. I beseech you not to let us hinder you. If we cannot get our liberty, we do not wish to be the means of keeping you from a land of freedom."
William Wells Brown's Clotel (1853), the first novel written by an African American, was published in London while Brown was still legally regarded as property within the borders of the United States. The novel was inspired by the story of Thomas Jefferson's purported sexual relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. Brown fictionalizes the stories of Jefferson's mistress, daughters, and granddaughters, all of whom are slaves in order to demythologize the dominant U.S. cultural narrative celebrating Jefferson's America as a nation of freedom and equality for all.