Brown, Henry "Box"

Henry Brown was not born on March 24, but that was the day in 1849 when he was became free. Brown was a slave in Virginia who escaped inside a box shipped from Richmond to Philadelphia, perhaps the most sensational slave escape of the era. Dickinson graduate James Miller McKim helped arrange the escape with other Underground Railroad agents and greeted Brown as he emerged from the box.
Life Span
    Full name
    Henry "Box" Brown
    Place of Birth
    Slave State
    Other Occupation
    Relation to Slavery
    Slave or Former Slave
    Other Affiliations
    Abolitionists (Anti-Slavery Society)

    Henry “Box” Brown (Bordewich, 2006)

    Smith managed to send a message to the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Office, advising it to watch for a crate that would be arriving on a certain date, and to open it immediately. Meanwhile, a free black friend of Brown’s arranged for a carpenter to build a box three feet long, two feet wide, and two feet, six inches deep, to be lined with baize cloth. The fit would be tight, allowing the two-hundred-pound, five-foot-eight-inch-tall Brown no space to turn himself around. At about 4 A.M. on March 29, Brown climbed into the box. Three gimlet holes were drilled opposite his face for air. He was handed a few biscuits and a cow’s balder filled with water. After the top was hammered on, the box was addressed to a contact in Philadelphia, and plainly marked “THIS SIDE UP.” Smith had the box delivered to the railway express office, where it was then put on a wagon and driven to the station. By the route that the box would have to follow, Philadelphia lay three hundred and fifty miles away.
    Fergus M. Bordewich, Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement (New York: Amistad, 2006), 310.

    Henry “Box” Brown (Blight, 2004)

    At the end of August, just a few days after the bill passed the US Senate, slave catchers accosted Henry “Box” brown on the streets of Providence, Rhode Island. Brown was a fugitive from Virginia who, a year and a half before, had shipped himself in a crate via overland express to abolitionists and freedom in Pennsylvania. He and a friend, James C. A. Smith, presented “Box” Brown’s story on the antislavery lecture circuit by displaying and performing a narrative panorama. Called The Mirror of Slavery, it depicted Africa, slavery, and Brown’s harrowing escape. After one such performance in Providence, a group of men attacked Brown and beat him, but he managed to get away. The men then waylaid him a second time and tried to force him into a carriage, but they could not overpower him. Brown attributed the bold daylight attack to the new fugitive slave law. Shortly thereafter, on the advice of antislavery friends, Brown and Smith left the country and took their panorama to England.
    Lois E. Horton, “Kidnapping and Resistance: Antislavery Direct Action in the 1850s,” in Passages to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in History and Memory, ed. David W. Blight (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2004), 158-159.

    Henry "Box" Brown (New Orleans Picayune)

    THE RUNNING OF SLAVES.—On the 30th ult., at the anniversary of the Anti-Slavery Society of Boston, Henry Box Brown, the fugitive slave, whose extraordinary escape from servitude in Richmond, and almost miraculous arrival at Philadelphia, created such a sensation, was introduced to the audience.  He was transported three hundred miles through a slaveholding country, and by public thoroughfares, in a box, by measurement, exactly three feet one inch long, two feet wide, and two feet six inches deep.  The following abstract of his story is taken from the Traveller of the 2d inst.:

    While at Richmond, though the box was legibly and distinctly marked “this side up with care,” it was placed on end with his head downwards.  He felt strange pains, and was preparing himself to die, preferring liberty or death to slavery, and he gave no sign.  He was, however, relieved from this painful position and encountered no other danger than the rough handling of the box, until it arrive in Washington.  When the porter who had charge of it  reached the depot there, they threw or dropped with violence to the ground, and it rolled down a small hill turning over two or three times.  This he thought was bad enough, but the words he heard filled him with anguish, and brought with the blackness of despair.  They were, that the box was so heavy that it could not be forwarded on that night, but must lay over twenty-four hours.  In the language of the fugitive, “My heart swelled in my throat; I could scarcely breathe; great sweats came over me; I gave up all hope.”  But a man came in and said, “that box must go on; it’s the express mail.”  Oh, what relief I felt.  It was taken into the depot, and I was placed head downwards again for the space of half an hour.  My eyes were swollen almost out of my head, and I was fast becoming insensible, when the position was changed.

    He arrived in Philadelphia after many hair-breadth escapes, and the box was taken to the house to which it was directed.  The panting inmate heard voices whispering; afterwards more men came in.  They were doubtful or fearful about opening the box.  He lay still, not know who the people were.  Finally one of them knocked on the box and asked, “Is all right here?”  “All right,” echoed the box.

    In corroboration of it, Rev. S.J. May said he was in Philadelphia in the midst of the excitement caused by this wonderful adventure.  He said that, for obvious reasons, he could not give the name of the gentlemen to whom the box was consigned.
    “Running of Slaves,” New Orleans (LA) Picayune, June 13, 1849, p. 5: 4.
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Bordewich, Fergus M. Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement. New York: Amistad, 2006.
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    Bordewich, Fergus M. Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement. New York: Amistad, 2006.
    view record
    Brown, Henry "Box". Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. view record
    Levine, Ellen, and Kadir Nelson. Henry's Freedom Box. Scholastic Press, 2007. view record
    Ruggles, Jeffrey. "Go and Get a Box: Henry Brown's Escape From Slavery, 1849." Virginia Cavalcade 48, no. 2 (1999): 84-95. view record
    Ruggles, Jeffrey. The Unboxing of Henry Brown. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2003. view record
    Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. "Passing beyond the Middle Passage: Henry 'Box' Brown's Translations of Slavery." Massachusetts Review 37, no. 1 (1996): 23-44. view record
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