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Centuries Later, African-American Mainer Who Fought in Forgotten War Gets Recognition

A depiction of the USS Constellation (left), commanded by Capt. Thomas Truxtun, capturing the French frigate L’Insurgente (right) on Feb. 9, 1799.
Illustration courtesy the National Archives

On a recent gray day in Portland, a small group of people gathers at a garage to open a box they’ve waited years to see.

It’s a late chapter in a saga that began more than two centuries ago, a story of justice twice denied — or at least delayed — for an African-American Mainer.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

William Brown was likely born a slave in Maryland, but he later settled in Portland, which was then a part of Massachusetts. In 1799, when Brown was barely an adolescent, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and he played a role in its first major victory. It started with a hot trade dispute with France that became known as the Quasi-War.

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