Friday, December 4, 2015

Mailed To Freedom - Henry (Box) Brown



  Henry Box Brown was born a slave in Louisa County Virginia in 1816. Brown married and had three children with a slave woman but his marriage was not legally recognized. Brown's master sold his wife and children to another slave master. It was after this that Brown claimed to have had a heavenly vision that he should mail himself to a place that had no slaves. He asked for help from a free black man named James Smith and a white shoemaker named Samuel Smith. They were not related to each other. Brown paid 86.00 dollars of his life's savings, which was a lot of money in those days, to have himself mailed to the office of Quaker merchant Passmore Williamson in Philadelphia. On the day of his escape he burned his hand to the bone by pouring sulfuric acid on it. This was to have an excuse to get out of work for the day. Brown carried a little water and some biscuits for nourishment. He was then placed in a box that was 3 feet long by 2 feet 8 inches deep by 2 feet wide. The outside of the box displayed the words dry goods and was nailed shut. There was a hole cut for air. Brown later wrote about why he was so willing to risk his life in a venture such as this. "If you have never been deprived of your liberty, as I was, you cannot realize the power of that hope of freedom, which was to me indeed, an anchor to the soul both sure and steadfast." Brown was mailed on March 23rd 1849. The box was delivered by wagon, railroad, steamboat, wagon again, railroad, ferry, railroad, and delivery wagon. The box read "handle with care" and "this side up," On several occasions the carriers placed the box upside-down or roughly handled it. Brown didn't move and managed to avoid detection. The box was received by the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee on March 30, 1849, Brown became a well-known speaker for the Anti-Slavery Society. He came to the attention of the famous former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Brown was nicknamed "Box" at a Boston antislavery convention in May 1849, and was known thereafter as Henry Box Brown. He would go on to publish two autobiographies. 



  Frederick Douglass was disappointed that Brown revealed the method of his escape. He wanted other slaves to be able to use this method. Both James Smith and Samuel Smith were arrested when they attempted to free other slaves in Richmond in 1849. Authorities were on guard. Brown was able to contact his wife's new owner and he offered to sell his family to him but Henry declined the offer. This was a fact that the Northern abolitionists tried to keep hidden from the public because it was embarrassing to them. The fugitive slave act was passed in 1850. In essence it made every citizen of the United States a potential slave catcher. They were required by law to report the whereabouts of any escaped slave. Brown moved to England in order to avoid capture and became a celebrity. He toured almost every town and city speaking out against slavery for the next ten years. After the start of the American Civil war, in order to make a living, he became a mesmerist, and a conjurer, under the show names of (Professor. H. Box Brown) and the (African Prince). Brown married a white British woman and began a new family. He and his family returned to America with a group magic act called the Brown Family Jubilee Singers. Nobody knows when or where Brown died. He was last seen publicly at a performance at Brantford, Ontario, Canada, in 1889.
Henry (Box) Brown

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