escape from america

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June 15th 1897: Henry ‘Box’ Brown dies

On this day in 1897, American former slave Henry ‘Box’ Brown died in Canada. Born into slavery in Virginia in 1815, Brown spent most of his enslavement in a tobacco factory. In 1848, his wife and children were sold to North Carolina; the injustice fuelled his desire to escape from slavery. Brown plotted his escape carefully, working with a friend from his church and a white contact to arrange his being shipped as cargo from Richmond to the free city of Philadelphia. On March 23rd, 1849, Brown’s arduous journey began. Hiding in a box labeled ‘dry goods’, with just a single hole for air, Brown travelled 27 hours to the headquarters of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society. When the box was opened, Brown emerged, said “How do you do, Gentlemen?”, and recited a psalm, thanking God for his deliverance from slavery. Abolitionist leaders were divided on whether to publicise Brown’s story. On one hand, it provided an inspiring story to enslaved people, but it also alerted the authorities to the possibility of similar attempts; indeed, Brown’s accomplices in Virginia were arrested for attempting to ship more people to freedom. Brown decided to go public, and toured Northern states with his courageous story, publishing a narrative in 1849. The passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 alarmed Brown, and he fled to England, where he remarried. Brown returned to America in 1875, after the Civil War brought about the aboltition of slavery, and worked as a magician. Little is known about Brown’s latter years, except that by the late 1880s he was performing in Canada. However, recent research suggests that he died on June 15th 1897 in Toronto. The remarkable career of Henry ‘Box’ Brown demonstrates the great lengths to which people were willing to go to escape the horrific institution of slavery.

“Buoyed up by the prospect of freedom and increased hatred to slavery I was willing to dare even death itself rather than endure any longer the clanking of those galling chains”