Henry “Box” Brown was born into slavery in Virginia in 1815, but after his wife and children were separated from him, he began planning to escape.
Brown decided he wanted to ship himself in a box to Philadelphia where he would find freedom. White abolitionists, Samuel Smith and James Miller McKim, who were with the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society. In early, 1849, labeling the box “dry goods,” Smith shipped Brown to Philadelphia in a box that was 3 feet long, 8 inches deep and 2 feet wide. He arrived 27 hours later.
Traveling by wagons, trains and steamboats, Brown had just one container of water and two biscuits for the 27-hour trip.
According to journals by Brown, the trip was not smooth. The box was handled roughly, turned upside down several times and even sat on. Brown wrote that he “was resolved to conquer or die, I felt my eyes swelling as if they would burst from their sockets; and the veins on my temples were dreadfully distended with pressure of blood upon my head.”
When McKim and other White Abolitionists in Philadelphia received the box, Brown recited the hymn, “I waited patiently on the Lord and He heard my prayer,” which he would later sing often as a performer upon his freedom.
Smith attempted to free more of those enslaved from Virginia to Philadelphia, but just a few months after Brown arrived in Philadelphia, Smith was discovered and arrested.
After his freedom, Brown hired artists to create a moving panorama illustrating slavery, called “Mirror of Slavery,” which opened in Boston in late 1849. When the Fugitive Slave Act passed, he fled to England where his panorama was also exhibited. In 1851, Brown’s narrative of his life “First English Edition” was published in Manchester.
Later in his life, he focused more on performing and show business, returning to the US to become a magician where he frequently climbed into the same box he escaped from slavery in for his acts.