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Henry Box Brown

Henry Box Brown

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Henry "Box" Brown (1815-unknown) was an African-American slave in Virginia and is remembered by history for escaping in a shipping box sent north to the free state of Pennsylvania.


Henry Brown was born into slavery in 1815 in Louisa County, Virginia. In 1830, he was sent to Richmond to work in a tobacco factory. There, he married another slave, Nancy, and the couple had at least three children. Brown used his wages to pay Nancy's master for the time she spent caring for them. However, in 1848, his wife and children were sold to a plantation owner in North Carolina. Henry Brown found himself helpless to prevent this.

Henry Brown then determined to escape to freedom. He obtained the help of a sympathetic white shoemaker named Samuel Smith, who agreed to ship him to a free state in a box, disguised as dry goods. Brown paid $84, had himself nailed into a small box and was shipped from Richmond to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a distance of about 275 miles. The box was only 2' 8" deep, 2' wide, and 3' long; Brown was five feet eight inches, and 200 pounds (91 kg). During the trip, which began on March 23, 1849, several cargo workers placed the box upside-down or had handled it haphazardly with no indication that Brown was inside the box. Amazingly, Brown survived the 26-hour-long journey by overland express stage wagons.

Upon arrival in the "City of Brotherly Love", the box containing Brown was received by James Miller McKim, a member of the Underground Railroad. When Brown was released, history records his first words as "How do you do, gentlemen?" He then sang a chosen Psalm from the Bible he had previously selected for his moment of freedom.

Henry Brown survived his journey and became a well-known speaker for the Anti-Slavery Society. He apparently willingly accepted the nickname of Henry "Box" Brown, as in 1851, he wrote his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown. Brown traveled throughout free states with a panoramic display, but eventually was forced to move to England after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. There he hosted abolitionist speeches, and eventually conducted singers, dancers and ventriloquists in his anti-slavery rallies.

According to historians, Henry Brown was in England and Wales during the American Civil War. However, his whereabouts after 1864 are unknown, and it is also unknown if he was ever reunited with his wife Nancy or his children.

The Resurrection of Henry Box Brown at Philadelphia, a lithograph by Samuel Rowse, depicted Henry Brown emerging from the shipping box into freedom in Philadelphia. The lithograph was widely published to help raise funds for anti-slavery purposes and Brown's travels. One of only three known originals is preserved in the collection of the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond.

In 1997, Brown was the subject of a Tony Kushner play entitled Henry Box Brown or the Mirror of Slavery.

See also

References and additional reading


  • Brown, Henry (2003). Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Oxford University Press. 0195148541. (Revised version with introduction by Richard Newman, foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.)
  • Ruggles, Jeffry (2003). The Unboxing of Henry Brown, Richmond, Virginia: Library of Virginia. 0884902005.


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