Freedom and human rights

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Do you know what these objects are, and what the connection was between them?

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Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, 1851, in the collection of the John Rylands Library, The University of Manchester

See this object at The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester

This item may not always be on display, please check with the venue before visiting

Henry Brown was born enslaved in Virginia USA in 1815. In 1849 Brown's master refused to buy Brown's wife when she and their children were put up for sale. Henry Brown decided to escape to freedom by being posted in a box.

Brown was sent from Richmond, Virginia, to Philadelphia. The 350 mile journey took 27 hours. In Philadelphia the box was opened and Brown jumped out and declared ‘Good morning, gentlemen!’ as if he had arrived on a train.

The engraving of his rising from the box became an important image used to support the case for abolition. Brown became an overnight sensation changing his name to Henry ‘Box’ Brown.

As an escaped enslaved African, Brown could have been caught and returned to his owner. He left the USA and arrived in Liverpool in 1850. He toured the north of England to tell his story and to help raise awareness for the abolition of slavery. He spent the next 14 years lecturing and re-enacting his escape. Brown spoke at venues in Manchester, where he made the contacts to enable him to publish his book ‘Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown’. 

His popularity and the publication of his book show the support for the abolition of slavery in Manchester and the surrounding cotton towns.

Brown married an English wife and had two children. The 1871 census lists the Browns in Cheetham, Manchester where they were doing well enough to employ a servant. In 1875, however, Brown decided to return to America, and the last record of him is in 1878 outside Boston.