Henry Box Brown

Henry Box Brown's Escape From Slavery

This is an extraordinary story.  Against all odds, Henry Brown triumphed not once, but twice.  

 

Henry Box Brown (1816-c.1889) was a Virginia slave who escaped to freedom by arranging to have himself shipped to Philadelphia abolitionists in a wooden box. The box was 2’8” wide, 2’ deep and 3’ long. The harrowing journey took 27 hours. The box traveled by train, steamboat and horse and cart. For part of the journey, the box was set upside down with Brown on his head.

 

News of his daring and ingenious escape traveled fast. Soon he began appearing at public antislavery events.  He also participated in the publication of a book about his life, Narrative of Henry Box Brown (1849).

Henry Brown's Moving Panorama, The Mirror of Slavery

Moving panoramas were at the height of their popularity in the mid 19th Century. They were most popular in the US and England. Brown used the proceeds from his lecturing and book to produce a moving panorama entitled “Henry Box Brown’s Mirror of Slavery.” It was one of the first moving panoramas on the topic of slavery. Brown presented it in the northeastern United States from April until August 1850, when the debate and passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 came to endanger his freedom. The risk of recapture brought an end to his performing in the U.S. 

 

Undaunted, Brown took his moving panorama to England where he continued to perform. He later branched out into other forms of entertainment but always continued to tell the story of his escape from slavery.  He performed in virtually every town and village in England.

 

The handbill pictured above from undergroundrailroad.org.UK  advertises one of his shows in England.

Read more about the life of Henry Box Brown at The Root

"The Unboxing of Henry Brown" by Jeffrey Ruggles

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

The book, The Unboxing of Henry Brown, by Jeffrey Ruggles, not only talks about Brown’s early life and escape to freedom, it gives a rare glimpse into the life of a 19th Century moving panorama showman.  Much of the book focuses on Brown's moving panorama.

 

Ruggles spent ten years researching the life of Henry Brown in the US and England, uncovering some never before published information. Brown's moving panorama, like almost all of the moving panoramas of that time, did not survive to this day, but by piecing together bits of information from newspaper reviews, handbills and from a book of that time, The Nubian Slave, Ruggles was able to speculate on what the moving panorama looked like and how it was created.   Ruggles gives a sense of what it was like to be a moving panorama showman of that time. It was hard work transporting the large apparatus and scroll by train and horse and cart. Protecting the delicate painted scroll from the weather, finding places to perform and procuring letters of endorsement  were just a few of the many challenges Henry Brown faced.  

 

To purchase the book, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you do, contact The Virginia Shop at the link below, where the cost of the book is $25.00.

http://www.thevirginiashop.org/theunboxingofhenrybrown.aspx

If you search for the book via other on-line purchasing resources, you will find the price to be between $100.00 - $200.00, so go to The Virginia Shop site!

 

Listen to an interview with Jeffrey Ruggles on  National Public Radio from March, 2010. "New Evidence Tells of Man's Escape from Slavery in a Box".

Special thanks to Jeffrey Ruggles for editing the first two sections of this page.