Henry 'Box' Brown

Famous Escaped Slave

The Famous Escaped Slave Henry 'Box' Brown: A Brief Synopsis

Henry 'Box' Brown was an escaped slave famed for mailing himself in a small crate from Virginia to Philadelphia in 1849; a journey that lasted twenty seven hours.

The Famous Escaped Slave Henry 'Box' Brown: Family and Master

Born in Virginia in 1816, Henry 'Box' Brown was separated from his family at the age of thirteen on the death of his master, John Barrett. Expecting to be emancipated but instead given to his son, William, Henry 'Box' Brown worked for his new master in a tobacco factory. At the age of fourteen and a half, Henry 'Box' Brown had been witness to the aftermath of the slave Nat Turner's rebellion; the slaves in the streets were hung, whipped and even killed by fearful white people; although at the time Henry 'Box' Brown was not fully aware of what had taken place.

escaped slave Henry 'Box' Brown being received by abolitionists in Philadelphia
Henry 'Box' Brown, the famous escaped slave (public domain)

The Famous Slave Henry 'Box' Brown: Spouse and Children

As a result of the rebellion, slaves were unable to meet in groups of five or more unless working, and black ministers were not allowed to preach to their flock. In approximately 1836 Henry 'Box' Brown was given permission to marry Nancy, a slave owned by another master, on the basis that their respective owners would not sell them. However, after one year of marriage, Nancy's master broke his word and Nancy was sold to another slave owner. In order to keep his family from being separated again, Henry 'Box' Brown paid her current master to retain her and used his 'overwork' money to rent a house for his wife and three children. However, in 1848 Nancy and the children were sold and shipped to North Carolina. At the time of his memoirs in 1851, Henry 'Box' Brown was trying to raise $1,200 to purchase their freedom; something which he did not accomplish. Distressed at their loss and his master's suggestion that he could take another slave as a wife, Henry 'Box' Brown began to think of ways to escape until one day he had the idea to put himself in a box and mail himself to freedom.


Name: Henry 'Box' Brown
AKA: Henry Brown
Born: 1816, Virginia
Died: Unknown
Method of Escape: Mailing himself to the North in a crate that was three feet by two feet
Spouse: Nancy in c1836, Jane B1836 in c1854
Children: Agnes, Annie and Edward

The Famous Escaped Slave Henry 'Box' Brown: Escape

Henry 'Box' Brown drilled three small gimlet holes into a crate for air, ensuring that 'right side up with care' was clearly displayed on the side. Henry 'Box' Brown paid Samuel Smith, a slave owner, to assist him with the escape, who in turn  made contact with James Miller McKim of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, advising them to expect Henry 'Box' Brown's arrival. The journey was hazardous; not only was the box hot and uncomfortable, on one occasion Henry 'Box' Brown was stored on his head for two hours until workers righted him again. The box was roughly handled, rolled and sometimes upside down, but eventually he reached Philadelphia on 24 March 1849.

In his memoirs, Henry 'Box' Brown recalled the abolitionists' reluctance to open the crate; they first rapped and asked if he was okay, waiting for a response before prising off the lid. Though he initially fainted when helped out of confinement, he was later said to have burst in to song.

The Famous Escaped Slave Henry 'Box' Brown: Later Life

Fearing capture due to the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act, Henry 'Box' Brown moved to Liverpool, England in October 1850, where he performed various panoramas, magic and hypnotism. Though it is said that he later made enough money to purchase his family, he instead married an English woman named Jane and had three children with her; Agnes, Edward and Annie. In 1875, Annie and Jane accompanied Henry 'Box' Brown back to America, where he continued his panoramas and magic acts, but there is little information on Henry 'Box' Brown past this year.


  1. Henry 'Box' Brown - The Narrative of the Life of Henry 'Box' Brown Box Brown
  2. The University of North Carolina
  3. The Library of Virginia
  4. The Encyclopedia of Virginia
  5. The University of Central Lancashire
  6. Undergroundrailroad.org.uk
  7. Revealinghistories.org.uk

The Biography of Famous Slave/ Abolitionist Henry 'Box' Brown

  • The Biography of Henry 'Box' Brown, for Education and Learning
  • The Daring Escape of Henry 'Box' Brown



  • Quick Facts About the Slave Henry 'Box' Brown
  • Henry 'Box' Brown's Family

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