Henry “Box” Brown (b. 1816 – 1889?); On March 30, 1849, William Still, (the conductor of the Underground Railroad) and other members of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee (a group of abolitionists that worked with runaway slaves to subvert the Fugitive Slave Act) greeted Henry Brown in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed by the United States Congress on September 18, 1850, as a compromise between Southern slave-holders and Northern Free States. The Act would require the return of runaway slaves from Northern states. Many northern cities and towns passed laws that forbid local law enforcement from returning fugitives slaves or even jailing them for extradition back to their slave holders in the south. The Act penalized officials in the north $1,ooo for not returning blacks to slavery. All bounty hunters had to do was present an affidavit to the local law enforcement. Federal marshals would then assist in the implementation of the law. The Act was so arbitrary it resulted in kidnapping of free blacks being sent south.
Henry Brown was born into slavery in 1816 in Louisa County, Virginia. Brown was worked the tobacco field and lived in a house on a plantation with his wife and children. The owner of the plantation sold his wife and children to another plantation, this was the beginning of Henry’s idea to escape.
With the help of a free black, James C.A. Smith and a shoemaker Samuel A. Smith, Henry devised a plan to ship himself to a free state. They decided to use the Adams Express Company and pay the $86 to Samuel Smith to arrange the shipment.
The trip took several days. Brown was transported by wagon, railroad, steamboat, ferry and finally the delivery wagon. After 27 hours, Henry Box Brown arrived at his destination. The story goes that Brown sang a song from the Bible when his package was finally opened.
Henry Box Brown became a celebrity. He was a well-known speaker and got to know famous people such as Frederick Douglass. He publish his story and then re-published it when he moved to Manchester, England, in 1851. “The Narrative Life of Henry Box Brown”, by Himself (Google eBook).
Some in the abolitionist community were not happy with Brown’s fame and his recounting o the story of his escape, it was thought that Brown’s escape method was so good, it could be used again. However, the amazing story is recounted in a book by William Still, the section, “The Resurrection of Henry Box Brown” (p.83) help to immortalize, Henry Box Brown.
The Underground Railroad, The William Still Story (download the eBook) p.83