Author: Suzette Spencer

Assistant Professor of English and Africana Studies, William & Mary

Henry Box Brown (1815 or 1816–1897)

Henry Box Brown was an abolitionist lecturer and performer. Born into slavery in Louisa County in 1815 or 1816, he worked in a Richmond tobacco factory and lived in a rented house with his wife and children. In 1848, his wife and children were sold away to North Carolina. Brown resolved to escape from slavery and enlisted the help of a free Black man and a white enslaver, who conspired to ship him in a box to Philadelphia. In March 1849 the package was accepted there by a leader of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. As a free man, Brown lectured across New England on the evils of slavery and participated in the publication of the Narrative of Henry Box Brown (1849). In 1850, a moving panorama, Henry Box Brown’s Mirror of Slavery, opened in Boston. That same year, Brown, worried that he might be reenslaved, moved to England, where he lectured, presented his panorama, and performed as a hypnotist. In 1875, he returned to the United States with his second wife and daughter and performed as a magician. Brown died in Toronto on June 15, 1897. He stands as a powerful symbol of the Underground Railroad and enslaved African Americans’ thirst for freedom.