HENRY "BOX" BROWN
"HE...HIT UPON A NEW INVENTION ALTOGETHER"
Henry "Box" Brown escapes slavery by having himself nailed into a small box
and shipped from Richmond to Philadelphia.
He was decidedly an unhappy piece of property in the city of Richmond,
Va. In the condition of a slave he felt that it would be impossible for him
to remain. Full well did he know, however, that it was no holiday task to
escape the vigilance of Virginia slave-
or the wrath of an enraged master for committing the unpardonable sin of
attempting to escape to a land of liberty. So Brown counted well the cost
before venturing upon his hazardous undertaking. Ordinary modes of travel he
concluded might prove disastrous to his hopes; he, therefore, hit upon a new
invention altogether, which was to have himself boxed up and forwarded to
Philadelphia direct by express. The size of the box and how it was to be made
to fit him most comfortably, was of his own ordering. Two feet eight inches
deep, two feet wide, and three feet long were the exact dimensions of the box,
lined with baize. His resources in regard to food and water consisted of the
following: One bladder of water and a few small biscuits. His mechanical
implement to meet the death-
for fresh air, all told, was one large gimlet. Satisfied that it would be far
better to peril his life for freedom in this way than to remain under the
galling yoke of Slavery, he entered his box, which was safely nailed up and
hooped with five hickory hoops, and then was addressed by his next friend,
James A. Smith, a shoe dealer, to Wm. H. Johnson, Arch Street, Philadelphia,
marked, "This side up with care." In this condition he was sent to Adams'
Express office in a dray, and thence by overland express to Philadelphia. It
hours from the time he left Richmond until his arrival in the city of
Brotherly Love. The notice, "This side up, etc.," did not avail with the
different expressmen, who hesitated not to handle the box in the usual rough
manner common to this class of men. For a while they actually had the box
upside down, and had him on his head for miles. A few days before he was
expected, certain intimation was conveyed to a member of the Vigilance
Committee that a box might be expected by the three o'clock morning train from
the South, which might contain a man.
All was quiet. The door had been safely locked. The proceedings
commenced. Mr. [J.M.] McKim rapped quietly on the lid of the box and called
out, "All right!" Instantly came the answer from within, "All right, sir!"
The witnesses will never forget that moment, Saw and hatchet quickly had
the five hickory hoops cut and the lid off, and the marvelous resurrection of
Brown ensued. Rising up in the box, he reached out his hand, saying, "How do
you do, gentlemen?" the little assemblage hardly knew what to think or do at
the moment. He was about as wet as if he had come up out of the Delaware.
Very soon he remarked that, before leaving Richmond he had selected for his
arrival hymn (if he lived) the Psalm beginning with these words: "I awaited
patiently for the Lord, and He heard my prayer." And most touchingly did he
sing the psalm, much to his own relief, as well as to the delight of his small
Source: William Still, Underground Railroad Records (Philadelphia, 1872).