Who resisted and campaigned for abolition?

Henry Box Brown escape from slavery

Enslavement and escape

Henry 'Box' Brown was born enslaved on a plantation 45 miles from Richmond, Virginia, in 1815. He worked in Richmond in a tobacco factory. In 1849 Brown's master refused to buy Brown's wife when she and their children were put up for sale and they were sold to a man in North Carolina. This act prompted Brown's determination to escape from slavery, and a scheme was hatched to post him to Philadelphia in a box.

Posted in a box

Helped by the free black American, James Caesar Anthony Smith, Brown was posted from Richmond, Virginia to the city of Philadelphia. The 350 mile journey took 27 hours to complete. In Philadelphia the box was opened and Brown jumped out and declared, ‘Good morning, gentlemen!’ as if he had arrived on a train.

The story of this journey to freedom caught the public's imagination and Brown became well known, joining the abolitionist lecture circuit and calling himself Henry Box Brown to commemorate his escape. It was the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act which legally required escaped slaves in free states to be returned to their owners that forced Brown to flee to England. He arrived in Liverpool in October 1850 along with Smith, the free black American who had helped him in his escape.

Together they toured the north of England with an exhibition called 'The Mirror of Slavery'. He spent the next 14 years lecturing and re-enacting the manner of his escape. By 1865 interest was lessening in stories of the American slavery experience due to the abolition of slavery after Lincoln's victory in the American Civil war.

Manchester residents

Brown and his family, which included an English wife and two children, remained in the north west. The 1871 census records 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. Where he died remains unknown.

Watch a drama performance about Henry Box Brown.