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Brown, Henry "Box"

Brown, Henry "Box"

c. 1815?

The abolitionist Henry "Box" Brown was born a slave on a plantation near Richmond, Virginia. As a young man, he worked in a tobacco factory in Richmond. As an adult, the sale of his wife and three children to a North Carolina clergyman in 1848 provoked him to attempt an audacious escape. In March 1849 he had himself crated in a wooden box and shipped to Philadelphia via Adams Express. He survived the torturous twenty-seven-hour journey and created a sensation when news of his escape reached the public.

After his escape, Brown took his salary and his "box" on the antislavery lecture circuit. The threat of slavecatchers, heightened by the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, compelled him to leave the United States for England in the fall of 1850. To enhance his antislavery presentations, he commissioned a panorama entitled "Mirror of Slavery." Boston artists painted several thousand square feet of canvas to illustrate slave life in the South and Brown's dramatic escape to freedom. With his panorama, and a narrative published in 1851, Brown became a well-known abolitionist lecturer during his four years in England.

See also Runaway Slaves in the United States; Slavery


Ripley, C. Peter, et al., eds. The Black Abolitionist Papers. Vol. 1, The British Isles, 18301865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

Ruggles, Jeffrey. The Unboxing of Henry Brown. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2003.

michael f. hembree (1996)
Updated bibliography

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