The Virginia Slave Who Mailed Himself to Freedom

Mar 2, 2017


From left Frank Coleman and Ellen and Glenn Birch.
Credit Pamela D'Angelo

Henry “Box” Brown was a born into slavery in Louisa County. At 15, he was sent to Richmond. 


Today, a group of musicians has chosen to honor Brown's story with a song about his escape. They performed recently during a Black History Celebration on Virginia’s Northern Neck. 


In front of an audience, many of whom were descendants of slaves, Glenn Birch told the story of Brown's unusual and daring journey. 


BIRCH: Henry Brown was a slave in Richmond, he worked in a tobacco factory and in 1849 he'd had enough of that. So, he decided to mail himself to Philadelphia. He with some friends in Richmond put him in a crate, they put it on a train, the train went to Aquia, it got on a boat, the boat went to Washington D.C., it got back on the train, and finally he made his way to Philadelphia, 26 hours later, where some abolitionists had been arranged to meet the box, open it up and set him free.

From the Library of Congress, a lithograph of "The Resurrection of Henry 'Box' Brown." 
Credit Library of Congress

He moved to Canada and then to Europe. He was a performer, he had a traveling monologue about his years in slavery that he presented, as well as he magician. He did lots of interesting things in those years after slavery.

Accompanying Glenn Birch were fellow musicians Ellen Birch and Frank Coleman. This story was produced by Pamela D'Angelo. You can read Henry Box Brown's narrative of his own life here.