Sunday, September 15, 2013

FedEx'd to Freedom

Before slavery was abolished in the United States, there were many numerous and curious was that enslaved African Americans tried and did escape slavery. For example, William Craft crossed dressed his way into the north, Eliza Harris ran across the barley frozen Ohio River, Robert Smalls hijacked a ship, Samuel Burris was freed by a fund raiser and well you get the picture, by any means necessary. But my favorite story is about Henry Brown. But what makes his story stand out amongst the rest? Well, it involved a daring plan, a life risking move and was a pretty out there idea. The plan stick Henry Brown in a box, seal him up and ship him from a plantation in Louisa County Virgina to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a 234 mile journey.

So the 234 mile trip today, takes a little over 4 hours by car, 8 hours by public transportation, 25 hours by bicycle and 77 hours on foot. Unfortunately for Brown, his trip was a little more difficult even though it only took a little over a day. But before we get into the trip lets talk about how this plan came to pass. Brown was going through a perhaps one of the most difficult things an enslaved person could go through, the loss of his family. Brown's wife and children were all sold to a different slave owner. It was then that Brown began having "heavenly visions," to send himself to a place where slavery did not exist. He pitched these "visions" to James Smith and Samuel Smith (no relations). Together, the three put the plan together.

Brown had to pay $86 dollars for shipping and handling, half of his life savings. He was ship via the Adams Express Company and was addressed to James Miller McKim, whom was contacted by Sam Smith about the planned escape. On March 22 1849, Brown burned his hand in order to be excused from his daily schedule, it would be then that he'd make his escape and meet up with Samuel Smith. He was boxed up and sent out early on the morning of  March 23. Now even though the shipment only took a day, Brown was transported via,wagon, railroad, steamboat, than wagon again, another railroad, ferry, a third railroad and last yet again another wagon. Now as you could imagine this trip really sucked. Even though the crate was marked with the usual ''this side up" and "handle with care" it wasn't. Brown recalled several different times the crate was flipped upside down or tossed incautiously on or off the wagons, trains, or ferry. But, the crate and Brown survived and arrived in Philadelphia in one piece.

The crate containing Brown was picked up on March 24 in Philadelphia by McKim and taken to his home. There McKim along with other members of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee popped open the crate and out came Henry Brown. He didn't request anything but instead his first words were, "How do you do, gentlemen?", than hopped out of the crate stretched out and sang a psalm from the Bible. 

"I waited patiently for the Lord-
And he, in kindness to me, heard my calling-
And he hath put a new song into my mouth-
Even thanksgiving-even thanksgiving-
Unto our God!
Blessed-blessed is the man
That has set his hope, his hope in the Lord!
O Lord! my God! great, great is the wondrous work
Which thou hast done!
If I should declare them-and speak of them-
They would be more than I am able to express.
I have not kept back thy love, and kindness, and truth,
From the great congregation!
Withdraw not thou thy mercies from me,
Let thy love, and kindness, and thy truth, always preserve me-
Let all those that seek thee be joyful and glad!
Be joyful and glad!
And let such as love thy salvation-
Say always-say always-
The Lord be praised!
The Lord be praised!"
 -Pslam sung by Brown upon exiting the crate.
After the escape Brown began touring the north with the Anti Slavery Society. At the May 1849 convention, which was quite the rager, Brown was dubbed Henry "Box" Brown, a nickname that would stick for the rest of his life. Later that year he published a biography and numerous essays regarding slavery in the U.S. Unfortunately for Brown, he was forced to flee the U.S. after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. However, he was warmly welcomed in England. There, Brown toured the country speaking about the horrors of slavery in the U.S. He also gave lectures on how America could eradicate slavery: allow slaves to vote,  a new President and the North to speak out against the South. He became such a staunch abolitionist he even worked with  Frederick Douglass. However, Douglass was very vocal he wished Brown would have kept his story quite as it would have been a great tool to free more enslaved African Americans. Due to the publicity surrounding the story Samuel Smith was arrested when trying to free other slaves later in 1849.
 After the Civil War ended, Brown stayed in the English spotlight. He continued until 1875, to argue the issue of slavery and the bettering of life for newly freed slaves. During this time he also got in performing as a conjuror, under the stage name Professor H. Box Brown and The African Prince, even though he was born in Virginia. He also remarried a white English women and began a new family, even though he could have reunited with his first family back in the states. He did return to the states in the 1870s and toured the country with a family magic act. Brown died in the 1890s. Today there is a monument to Brown on Canal Street in Richmond, Va. In more recent times the story of Brown has been revived. He was the subject of a play at P.S. 122 in New York City, several books have been published, both for children and adults and there is currently a film in post production which  retells the story of  Box Brown. Brown was a very influential figure during the abolitionist movement, both in the states and abroad. He showed great courage and ingenuity in order to free himself from the bonds of slavery. He did something daring and never done before all in the quest of freedom. It is important to keep the story of "Box" Brown alive for future generations Americans to show not just the faults of America, but the creativity and quest for liberty and freedom that all Americans have always sought after.

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