Born on a plantation near Lexington, Kentucky, in 1814, William Wells Brown was the son of a white man and an enslaved woman. Living principally in and around St. Louis, Missouri until the age of twenty, Brown was exposed to and experienced slavery amid remarkably wide-ranging conditions. William worked as a house servant and field slave and was hired out as an assistant to a tavern keeper, a printer, and the slave trader James Walker, who voyaged extensively, traveling to and from the New Orleans slave market on the Mississippi River. After at least two failed attempts, Brown did escape slavery on New Year's Day, 1834. Aided in his flight from Ohio into Canada by the Quaker Wells Brown, William adopted the man's names out of gratitude and admiration. For the next nine years, Brown worked aboard a Lake Erie steamboat while concurrently acting as an Underground Railroad conductor in Buffalo, New York.