Henry « Box » Brown (c. 1815 or 1816–1889)


Henry « Box » Brown (c. 1815 or 1816–1889)

Henry Brown was born into slavery in 1815 or 1816 on the Louisa plantation of John Barret, a former mayor of Richmond, Virginia. As a teenager, Brown was sent to live in Richmond where he worked in a tobacco factory, married, and fathered children. In 1848, his pregnant wife Nancy their children were sold and taken to North Carolina. With his family torn from him, Brown determined to escape slavery, and came up with an unusual method. Relying on the assistance of James Caesar Anthony Smith, a free black man, and Samuel Smith, a white shoemaker, Brown decided to ship himself in a box to the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, a group active in the Underground Railroad. On March 23, 1849, Brown stepped into a box three feet long, two and one-half feet deep, and two feet wide to begin his journey to Philadelphia, and freedom. In a trip that lasted 26 hours, Brown’s box traveled by both railroad and steamboat. With the word « Box » added to his name to highlight what he had endured to obtain freedom, Henry Box Brown, quickly became an advocate for the antislavery movement. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Bill in 1850 left Brown fearing he could be captured and sent back to Virginia, and so he fled the country for England. While in England, Brown continued to promote abolition, which eventually led to a career in English show business. Brown remarried in 1859 and continued to be successful with his stage shows in which he acted as a mesmerist and magician. Deciding to return to America in 1875, Brown began giving performances in Massachusetts under his new name, Prof. H. Box Brown. The last-known whereabouts of Henry Box Brown was in Brookline, Massachusetts, in May 1878. The legacy of Henry Box Brown is representative of his daring escape from slavery, and his lifelong promotion for abolition. He died in 1889.

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