Brown describes being born in Vermont, around 1800, although an 1852 census, in Canada, recorded he was 60 years old. Vermont's 1777 Constitution intended to outlaw slavery. But its wording contained a loophole, so it only outlawed the slavery of adults. Its wording continued to allow children to be used as slaves.
He said the Browns, the first family that owned him, was relatively kind. Gould, his second owner, a hotel owner, was a friend of the Browns. They agreed Lemuel could visit Gould, and if he liked working in the hotel, Gould could acquire ownership. The Browns asked Lemuel how he liked it, and only agreed to transfer ownership when Lemuel seemed happy. However, Gould grew cruel, once he was the official owner.
Gould had an adopted son, Lyman Holly, who was a criminal, who ended up being wanted for the murder of a tollkeeper. When Gould threatened to beat Brown he made the counter-threat that he would inform the authorities that Gould was hiding Holly. Gould did not beat Brown, but he did trick him onto a ship that carried him across Lake Champlain, to New York state, where he could be forced to serve as a slave even when he reached adulthood.
He was then sold to Colonel Daniel Bissell, an officer commanding a body of troops engaged in the War of 1812. Bissell was a southerner, from Missouri, who owned a large plantation, with many slaves, who thought he knew the necessity of cruelty to "break" slaves to his will, and he whipped Brown on numerous occasions.
Presumably working as one of many slaves, on a large plantation, would have been Brown's fate, except Bissell wagered Brown away, while gambling, and his next owner was a Captain John G. Camp, of Buffalo, New York. Camp was the most cruel master yet. Brown described beatings where Camp first suspended him, by his thumbs, so his toes barely touched the grounds, and then whipping him so severely his shoes filled with blood. Brown described setting out to sneak up on Camp, and shoot him with one of his own pistols, only to be stopped by one of Camp's other two slaves.
Peter Meyler, the author of a book on Brown's friend, Richard Pierpoint, suggested that Pierpoint may have met teenage Brown shortly after his arrival. Pierpoint had been a slave until he defected to the British side, during the American Revolution, and had fought with the British. He had lived as a free man in Canada, until the War of 1812, when he had raised a company of Black Loyalist volunteers, at 68 years old. Pierpoint had no surviving relatives when he made his will, in 1828, and he left his farm to Brown.
Pierpoint's will was probated in 1838. The property backed on to a creek now known as Dick's Creek, in Pierpoint's honour. The land had been given to Pierpoint as a reward for his service during the War of 1812. One condition of ownership was that Pierpoint was responsible for maintenance of the banks as the creek was part of the route of the first Welland Canal. Unfortunately, in 1844, a settler with a deed disputed Brown's ownership. The other settler's deed was dated 1798, Even though the other settler had never performed the improvements land grants required, and had never maintained the canal, Brown was evicted.
Meyler found few records documenting Brown's adult life. In 1830 he published a notice in a Niagara newspaper, saying his wife had "absconded", presumably so he would not be responsible for debts she incurred. In 1838, when he inherited from Pierpoint, he was married to a second wife, Phoebe Workman. Together they had seven children.
The date of Brown's death is not known, but an 1881 census records Phoebe living as a widow.
- Peter Meyler. "An Old Article Shines a New Light on the Mystery of Lemuel Brown". https://greyroots.com/sites/default/files/volume_14_an_old_article_shines_a_new_light_on_the_mystery_of_lemuel_brown_1.pdf. Retrieved 2021-07-05.
- Alun Hughes. "Richard Pierpoint and the naming of Dick's Creek". https://brocku.ca/social-sciences/geography/wp-content/uploads/sites/152/Richard-Pierpoint-and-the-Naming-of-Dick%E2%80%99s-Creek.pdf. Retrieved 2021-07-05.