"Clotel" is the story of a slave woman who was allegedly the daughter of Thomas Jefferson. At the time the book was published in 1853, rumors were rife about Jefferson's relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. We now know, through DNA testing, that those rumors were true -- but the author could only go on supposition.
However, Brown's narrative is well-informed for a variety of reasons. Not only is this the first historical novel written by an African-American; Brown was an escaped slave living in London when he wrote and published the tale. His book not only relies on his story-telling skills (this book is far less preachy than Uncle Tom's Cabin, despite the similar subject matter) but also on contemporary documents such as newspaper articles, first-person accounts and so on to create his tale.
Clotel, along with her sister Althesa and their mother, Currer, is sold in the slave markets after her master's death. We see the story arcs for all three characters as they go through hurdle after hurdle trying to reunite. The story is gripping, moving, and well-written. I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of primary sources as additional atmosphere.
Those who enjoy classic historical novels would do well to investigate this book.