Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Slave Fugitive: Henry "Box" Brown

The story of Henry “Box” Brown is one that really pulls at your heart.  As a young man, he fell in love, and after getting commitments from both their owners that they would not be sold, they married, and had three children.  His wife, Nancy, earned a few dollars taking in laundry.  With this they rented a place.  However Nancy’s owner sold her, but to another family in Richmond.  The new owner indicated he planned to sell her as a field slave, unless he could get a stipend for her.  Henry paid the initial $50 and then $50 a year.  However, that didn’t keep her and the children from being sold. 
Henry has gone to work at the tobacco factory, but when he returned his family was gone.  When he came home for lunch they were gone.  Hey had been sold to a plantation owner in North Carolina, and kept in jail until then to prevent Henry from trying to run off with them.  Henry waited by the side of the road the next day to bid his wife and children goodbye.  He saw his children in wagons, and then his wife in the chain gang.  He approached and held her hand, and followed along for some distance, but could nothing to save her.
From that moment, Henry was determined to escape to the North.  He burnt his finger with acid, to the bone, and was granted time off from the tobacco factory.  He later said that God told him, “Go and get a box and put yourself in it.”  He observed the shipping company.  He then had a friend build him a box.  He was helped by a white man who lived in the South and participated in the Under Ground Rail Road.  Brown took his box to one of these people who had promised to help him, Samuel A. Smith.  In March 1849 Henry climbed in the box with some biscuits and some water.  Smith nailed down the lid.  The box had THIS SIDE UP WITH CARE printed on it.  Then he was shipped to Philadelphia. 
He was taken to the train, and was on his way.  Henry became faint.  The three holes he had made did not allow much air.  He was moved to a steamboat, but the box was placed upside down.  Henry that his head would explode, when a worker noticed the error and corrected the box.  In Washington D.C. another change was made.  He heard someone say, “There is no room for this box.”  Then another voice, “You will have to make room for it.” 
There was confusion about the arrival of the box.  The intended recipient could not find it.  He sent someone else the next morning to avoid suspicion, but did not tell them a person was inside.  The box was finally delivered.  The prearranged signal, “Is all right within?”  Henry responded, “All right, sir!”
Henry later wrote a book of his ordeal.  He was the most famous person to travel by box, but not the only.  He asked about purchasing his family, but was never able to do so.  When slave catchers tried to kidnap him he determined to relocate to England.

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