United States Public Domain
Boarded inside four closed walls, traveling through land, sea, and trails, Henry ‘Box’ Brown was a motivational figure for the enslaved during a time of doubt.
Born into slavery, Henry ‘Box’ Brown, grew up in Louis County, Virginia, until he turned 15 and was sent to Richmond, Virginia to work in a tobacco factory. At the factory, he met his lover, Nancy who he had three children with. In 1848, Nancy and Brown’s children were moved to another plantation in North Carolina in. With the loss of his children and wife, Brown felt inspired to finally be a free man.
Brown’s free black friend, James Caesar Anthony Smith, had connections to a white condoler named Samuel Smith, willing to help free Henry. They created an elaborate plan to send Henry to freedom in Philadelphia, where he would be helped by James Miller Mckim. On March 23, 1849, their plan became a reality, as Henry was put into a box with some biscuits, a little bit of water and ‘This side up’ labeled on the outside. He had a small hole in the box for air and then it was tied and he was sent on his 27-hour long voyage. He was flipped over, tilted and even turned all the way upside down. With blood circulating to his head, he still held hope that he would be free. Brown finally got his wish, when he was delivered to the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society at the end of his journey. Once out the box, Brown delivered a psalm and was given the name Henry ‘Box’ Brown.
After Brown’s escape, Samuel Smith tried to free other slaves similarly, However, he and James Caesar Anthony both ended up in jail. Others like Frederick Douglass found out about their incarceration and advised for Henry to keep his escape a secret. Brown, however, made his story of his escape into a play portraying his life as a slave and as a free man. In 1849 “The narrative of Henry ‘Box’ Brown” was published by Charles Stearns. “Mirror of Slavery,” Brown’s first play, took the stage in Boston in April 1850. After the Fugitive Slave Act, Brown continued to perform his play in England, giving them an insight into slavery in the US. He returned to the US in 1875 and continued to perform. His last known performance was on February 26, 1889.