Henry Box Brown

Bobby Brown opens up about his chil...
Bobby Brown opens up about his childhood

Born: 1815

Place of Birth: Virginia

Died: 1897

Henry Box Brown

The story of Henry ‘Box’ Brown is one of courage and dedication. Although born a slave and given no opportunities, he had a level of common sense and conviction. His publication of his “Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown” combined with his speaking engagements led him to be an active member of the Anti-Slavery Society and a voice for freedom for Black American slaves.

  • Born into slavery in Virginia, Henry Brown was taken from his mother and father when he was 15 years old and sole to a plantation owner. Brown worked on a plantation owned by the son of his old master in farming tobacco.
  • In 1831 Brown had heard that there was some kind of excitement in the neighboring county. Not sure of what happened he asked and later learned that it was the Nat Turner Rebellion. He found out the details of a number of slaves uprising against their owners and that these slaves were caught, hung, whipped, and killed with swords in the streets. Any Black slave found away from their homes at night were shot. The uprising had scared the white owners and they would punish all slaves with hanging or worse.
  • During this time any slave that wanted to get married had to get the permission of their owners. Brown had met another slave named Nancy and when they decided to marry he went to her owner for permission. He said he had no plans to ever sell Nancy and if Brown’s owner agreed to not sell him, he would give his permission. Henry and Nancy married and in the next few years they had three children together.
  • Brown didn’t know that Nancy’s owner had lied to him and in 1848 he sold Nancy and her children to a slave trader who was taking them to North Carolina. He was given the chance to see them one last time as they passed by in a slave gang of 350 slaves that were being transported.
  • Brown began trying to figure out a way for his escape and coordinated with a local store-keeper, Samuel Smith to help him. He gave Smith $86, which was all of the money that he had and they worked out a plan to have Brown shipped by Adams Express Company to a free state. Smith was in contact with the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who agreed to accept the box when it arrived. Brown was put in the box and the journey took 27 hours, going by wagon, railroad, steamboat, another wagon, railroad, ferry, railroad, and at last on the delivery wagon. In some cases the box was set upside down but Brown was able to keep quiet enough so that they wouldn’t discover him. The box containing Brown arrived and was accepted by James Miller McKim and William Still.
  • After his horrible journey Henry “Box” Brown was now living in a free state and became one of the important speakers for the Anti-Slavery Society. He then published his book, “Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown,” and he became even more well-known.
  • When the Fugitive Slave Law passed, requiring anyone to return escaped slaves to their owners, Brown relocated to England and in 1851 he published a second edition of his autobiography. He devoted his time in Great Britain to traveling and speaking to many groups on the topic of anti-slavery and the laws that needed to be put in place.
  • During his time in England he became involved in the British entertainment circuit, met and married a British woman, and returned to the United States in 1875. He later relocated to Canada where he died in 1847.

Q&A:

What was the name of the slave uprising in 1831 that Henry Brown heard about?
Nat Turner Rebellion

What was required for two slaves to marry?
Get permission of their owners

Why was Henry given the nickname or middle name of “Box?”
Because he was shipped in a box so that he could arrive in a free state

Why did Henry move to England?
The passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in American

What organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received the shipment box containing Henry?
Philadelphia Vigilance Committee

How much did Henry pay the store-keeper to ship him to a free state?
$86