William Wells Brown: A Slave in the American Bottom Region

East St. Louis and St. Louis were by no means only the province of white settlers. The slave narrative of William Wells Brown recounts his eventual escape from St. Louis and slavery. In his account of a failed attempt with his mother, Brown recalls being acquainted with a "Mr. Wiggins" who was probably Samuel Wiggins, a significant developer of the Illinoistown and East St. Louis ferry trade.

Excerpt from Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave, published in 1847:

Title page to 1847 edition of Brown's narrative
The next morning, a blacksmith came in, and put a pair of handcuffs on me, and we started on our journey back to the land of whips, chains and Bibles. Mother was not tied, but was closely watched at night. We were carried back in a wagon, and after four days travel, we came in sight of St. Louis. I cannot describe my feelings upon approaching the city.

As we were crossing the ferry, Mr. Wiggins, the owner of the ferry, came up to me, and inquired what I had been doing that I was in chains. He had not heard that I had run away. In a few minutes, we were on the Missouri side, and were taken directly to the jail. On the way thither, I saw several of my friends, who gave me a nod of recognition as I passed them. After reaching the jail, we were locked up in different apartments.