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The Life and Magic of Henry 'Box' Brown

2018-04-09 | 🔗

Brown was born into slavery and escaped in an astonishing way. His story of gaining his freedom was so sensational that he basically spent the rest of his life making a living talking about it in one form or another.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This episode of stuff, you mustn't history classes brought to you by the completely redesigned twenty twenty Ford explorer. This is not a vehicle, that's gonna, take you to the moon or to the bottom of the sea, but it's one that you can use for all kinds of exploration and adventure and your everyday life azure going around town. If you're travelling does going over to the grocery store to get everything, you need for your kids birthday party once again, that is the all new twenty twenty Ford explore the greatest exploration vehicle of all time: hey everybody! Before we get started, we have a couple of live, shows to announce first April, twenty seven to twenty ninth, twenty eighteen, we will be a universal Pham Con in Baltimore. Maryland are exact schedule, for that show is still in the works, but this will include alive, show an hour. Listeners can get discounted tickets using the offer code history and for all the folks who have asked us to do is show in the Boston area of which there have been many. We finally on the way with a show in queens,
Adams. National historical park on Sunday July ape at two p m that wine is an hour, we're, show it will happen rain or shine, and we also have more appeared. That will be announcing soon, as well as more details about both of these shows wheel, that all our website, also at Miss than history dot com. Why couldn't you step? You missed in history class from Housetop works, dot com how Ireland, welcoming the pact, can stockpiling fry and I'm freezing Milton and today crazy, I'm kind of excited because the story, a million for a while we're to talk about a man who was born into slavery, which sounds not so levity enhanced, as my giggles might suggest, but he escaped in a really astonishing wave and his story of how he gained his freedom was so sensational that he based
we spent the rest of his life, making a living talking about it in one form or another. So today we are talking about Henry Box Brown and we're just gonna jump right into his story. Yes, so he was born in eighteen, fifteen or eighteen. Sixteen there's no known record of his exact birthday, but he was born in Louise, the county Virginia, which is about forty five miles from Richmond Susana Plantation called the hermitage, and he was in slaves from birth in his account of his life. Henry talked about an incident where he would carry green twenty miles to a mill several times a year as a boy and those traps which he took with his brother were also fact finding missions where the two boys would get information about the other enslaved people that lived near by and any other news going on in Virginia and on one such trip. The boys met a large group of enslaved men and they
with them, and they started to realize that the two of them were in a unique situation. The boys had clothes and they had shoes and the other enslaved man remarked upon them, ah as something that they did not have, and the boys also heard enslaved men being beaten. They were also asked by a white man whether they had ever been whips and they replied that they hadn't that caused this white man to reply, but they would never amount to anything so throughout
these interactions. The boys became really aware that they had a kind of precarious place in the world they at. That means they were still in slaves, but were in a position that was a little better in some ways and they realized they could easily end up in a similar situation to these people. They had spoken with, you didn't, have closed and shoes and and were routinely beaten yeah. They kind of appreciated the fact that they did get closer dig issues. They were not beaten as a matter of course, and they understood very quickly that people who were in slaves had no control over their life's coarse and they could easily end up just where ever.
they might land based on the whim of some one else. When Henry was about fifteen, he and his mother were called to the death bed of their owner. John bear it, and things on Berets plantation had gotten a little bit rougher because bear it had hired an overseer to manage things when he could not really keep up with running everything himself, and so they have. Taste of that more difficult situation and Henry and his mother believe that their summons to bear its bedside was in fact, so that they could tell them that they were going to be freed upon his death. They literally believed this when they walked into the room, but instead they got the news that John Bear. It was giving Henry to his son, William and with bear death. His estate was divided for ways among his funds and Henrys family was torn apart in the process
he later road of this time quote this kind of torture is a thousand followed, more cruel and barbarous than the use of the lash, which lasserate back the lashes which the whip or the Cowskin makes may heel, and the place which was marked in a little while may cease to exhibit the fines of what it had endured, but the pangs which lasserate the soul in consequence of the forcible disruption of parent and the dearest family ties only grow deeper and more piercing as memory fetches from a greater distance, the horrid acts by which they have been produced. Henry was moved to Richmond to work in a tobacco factory that William Barrett owned, William assured Henry that if he worked hard and he behaved that he would be taken care of, and he would also be paid a small bit of money. William was
overheard at one point by Henry telling the overseer at the factory. That Henriette should never be whipped that he had been raised by Williams, Father and that he was a very smart boy in eighteen, thirty one Henry witnessed the aftermath of not Turner's rebellion and with more than sixty black men, some enslaved in some free he had killed more than fifty people after the rebellion. There was a lot of retaliatory violence against enslaved people. Henry later wrote about witnessing many people quote: whipped, hung and cut down with swords in the streets and worse He asked William bear it what was happening and was told only that some enslaved man quote had plotted to kill their owner Henry only figured out long after the fact that he had seen this famous rebellion in eighteen, thirty, six Henry wanted to marry a woman that he had met named Nancy Nancy was also enslaved, but she was
and by a man named Mr Lee, who was a banker and not William, bear it who owned Henry so Henry spoke with Mr Lee, who said that he had no intention of selling Nancy and that, if William Barrett could say the same of Henry that he would appear the marriage so Nancy and Henry were married. But just a year later, Mr Lee reneged on his promise. He sold Nancy to a saddler named Joseph, a coal quit in coal quit and his wife treated Nancy. Far worse than her previous owner had and after a great deal of animosity, particularly on the part of MRS Coal, quit Nancy was sold once again, but the coal quit soon bought her back when they realise just how much she had been doing for them. Eventually, she was sold once again, but this time the man who purchased
Samuel Catarrhal cut Henry Ideal, but if Henry regularly paid him fifty dollars, he would let the couple and their children live together. Henry of course, had to arrange and pay for a home in addition to the regular annual payments that he had to make. Yet this is like one of those situations where in effects could travel couldn't make the initial payments to purchase Nancy outright. He was sure in that fifty dollars, made up the gap, but then he also charged Henry another. Fifty dollars annually and Henry had to pay for all of Nancy's life necessities, room board, etc. So control was basically getting paid to keep this woman believed by her husband, because it was the only way that Nancy and Henry could be together, and it was during this time that Henry met James Caesar, Anthony Smith of Free black man that he knew from church and James Help,
Henry find a home where he and Nancy and the children could live is at this point they had several James C, a Smith arranged for the rental of a home in his own name at seventy one dollars per year for the browns and for a while Although Henry was basically being extorted by, could travel to not sell Nancy, they were living. Happily, as a family and eighty forty eight, the rounds had been married for twelve years. They had three children and a fourth on the way and then control abruptly sir. Old Mamsie and the children who were all immediately removed from their home and taken to a prison for holding until the next day. At which point they would. get a journey, the North Carolina. In addition, he had. All the brown families possessions seized for auction, Henry begged his owner to buy his family, but he got nowhere pursuing that line of thinking. He managed to buy back some other things, with the small amount of money
hand, but he could only watch as his family, along with several other people were marched down the street to begin this journey to North Carolina. Mrs wife approached Henry took her hand and he held it ass. He walked for approximately four miles with the group before they were parted for good. One of the themes of Henry is account of his life. Is the discussion of the hypocrisy of the white men, who would call themselves christian and still engaged in slavery. It like this is made several appearances on a pod cast, including in our recent episode on Phyllis Willie. After loss of Nancy and the children. His own faith was not shaken, but he believed that slave owners could not truly be man of God that forced separation. After such a constant state of shifting assurances from owners catalyzed a fervent desire for freedom in Henry He
I lied to and toyed with and finally had what was most important to him taken away and he was intent on ending his own enslavement. I'll talk about Henry's, bolt of inspiration for his escape plan after we pause for a quick sponsor rake This episode is brought to you by the all new twenty twenty Forward explorer Tracy. I know that you been thinking about an interesting thing lately, which is what your pick would be for the greatest exploration vehicle of all time. Yeah, I'm going to go with the research vessel petrol that was owned by the lake Paul Allen that found so many shipwrecks with our listeners. Love that we started to make jokes about it like we were like, and this is a ship. it wasn't found by that vessel will help me all their two thousand and twenty Ford explorer is the greatest exploration vehicle of all time. There are a lot of places that have been explored by other vehicles, but this vehicle, the Ford explorer, is going to take you to places that you might not think of his explorations. But real
and be, for example. Maybe you gonna get your life and you have to get around town, which can be a whole big problem, especially if you live in a city like it. Land I were trafficked tends to be congested. Sometimes you just want to go on a great vacation in writing in a perfect vehicle, makes it the eye he'll ride or even just mundane things like going to the grocery store. Sometimes that is a true feet to achieve it. Migration is the way I do you, Do all of this and more with the only twenty twenty four explorer? That's all you! Twenty twenty floored explore the greatest exploration vehicle of all time Henry prescribes precisely the moment He had his idea for escape in his writing quote one day,
I was at work and my thoughts were eagerly feasting upon the idea of freedom. I felt my soul called out to Heaven to breathe a prayer to Almighty God. I prayed fervently that he see it in secret and knew the inmost desires of my heart would lend me his aid in bursting my fetters asunder and in restoring me too, the possess of those rights of which men had robbed me. When the idea suddenly flashed across my mind of shutting myself up in a box and getting myself conveyed as dry goods to a free state. The idea of feeling himself in a bar, to be shipped to freedom was obviously not without danger. There was a very real risk, but he could die in the process, but Henry Brown was willing to take that risk rather than remain enslaved and to make his escape Henry was going need some help, and so he turned once again to James Caesar, Anthony Smith, and he also had assistance
from a white man. The dreams introduced him to named Samuel Smith, who was no relation to James Henry. knew. He would have to get a few days of leave framework to give himself a good chance, where no would be alarmed that he was absent, he had a finger that was infected any thought he might use that as an excuse, but as overseer. Didn't things of injury was bad enough for him perhaps need to miss work, so Henry poured what was called oil of vitriol on it, really sulphuric acid. I wound up causing a lot more damage than he intended to, but it worked. He got permission to miss work and treat the wound and his friends manage to make contact with people in Philadelphia. He would be willing to receive this Box Browns Box lined with fabric very similar to what you might find on a pool table and Henry had cut three holes in the box for air and he took a gimlet which is kind of like an all with him into the box in case he needed to cut more during the journey.
He also took a bladder of water both so that he could hydrate himself in small amounts and also so he could potentially put it on his face. If he needed to end this box was according to Henry's, account three feet. One inch wide two feet: six inches high and two feet wide: Henry had hired a carpenter to specially make it for him with the small amount of money that he had saved up, and it was marked as Drygoods Henry followed himself into this box than than his friends nailed it shot. He was take. A mile to the shipping station he's Samuel ships, the Box on March, twenty third eighteen, forty nine by the Adams Express company in the box then made its journey over the course of twenty seven hours almost immediately. It was flipped on its end, so Henry's.
head was down and then, when he was moved from a wagon to a baggage car, it landed on its side, which is a little more comfortable. But when he was placed onto a steamer at Potomac Creek, he once again was stood on end with his head down. He thought he might die, because the pressure around his face was so much that he focused on the idea of freedom and resolved to just get through
comfort, as he was becoming convinced that is, life really was in danger to men on the steamer, shifted the crate to its side, to use it as a seat after some additional jostling and being tossed around and put into a position that was bottom end up again. He finally came to rest and legged storage at the train depot until a gentlemen came to ask about the boxing collect it to me. It sounds so terrifying one to be shut up in a box, but to the idea of being stood head down for hours on end like that is holy scary and from there after the man collected the box, was taken to the Philadelphia, Anti slavery society. They had a headquarters there and underground rail road conductor. William still who was part of this group that had assembled to receive the box, wrote of the moment that the box was open, all was quiet, the door had been safely locked, the proceedings commenced
Mr J M, Akin wrapped 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 in 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 well as if he had come up out of the Delaware. Very soon he remarked that before leaving Richmond, he had selected for his arrival him if he lived the psalm beginning with these words. I waited patiently for the Lord, and he heard my prayer and most touchingly did seeing this arm much to his own relief, as well as to the delight of his small audience.
Sir Henry Brown was free, the thick fast of browns escape also really caused a rift among abolitionists. There were people who wanted to publicize it as a victory for the anti slavery cause and these folks not that it might inspire similarly creative ideas among enslaved people in their sympathisers, but other real including Frederick Douglass thought that should be kept secret fever heard our episode on Frederick Douglass. He didn't want publicized his own way of escape because of the risk. The logic was that if they didn't, let word get out that Henry Escaped slavery in this manner that other people could potentially be freed the same way and Samuel Smith who was the white man who had assisted Brown in Virginia came to the door.
And as well that this shipping methods should be used to free other enslaved people, so Smith. Once again, with the help of James Caesar, Anthony Smith made another attempt on May eighth of eighteen, forty nine, but unfortunately their efforts were discovered. Both men were arrested, although James Smith did not face any jail time for his involvement. He was kind of written off because as a black man, they believe that he had not been smart enough to really be a mastermind in this whole plan, but in no number of that year, Samuel Smith was sentenced to six and a half years in prison alternately. Henry who was now nicknamed Henry Box Brown became as public story. It was really not possible to keep the secret of such an amazing skate escape secret within a man, of weeks he was a well known within the abolitionist Movement Brown began touring, telling the tale of his.
Me seven hours in the box to find his way to freedom. He first told the story at the New England Anti Slavery Convention in Boston at the end of May eighteen, forty, nine. So just two months after he began, he also wrote his life story, including his daring trip to freedom and actuality. The thing kept this account, which is titled narrative of Henry Box Brown, was written, largely
Abolitionist Charles Stearns, who also published it. Henry Brown and Charles turns actually went on book tour together and the proceeds from that book were used to fund a new lecture tour and for his stage appearances, Henry Brown developed his act to add a panoramic painting that he'd had commission titled mirror of slavery, and this painting was spool across the stage, almost like a slideshow to tell the story of how people had been stolen from Africa and enslaved and what slavery in the? U S was truly leg from the enslaved persons perspective, his friend James Caesar, Anthony Smith, who had left Richmond after his arrest and release, joined him on stage for these presentations. The two men eventually had a falling out, however, and we'll talk about that would see under the episode next stop we're going to talk about how the copper,
I've of eighteen. Fifty once again changed Henry's life, but we're gonna take another quick sponsor break before we get to that part of the story as a child. The first words out of your mouth were you're, not the boss of me. Boss moves are the moves you make an you, never have to worry about the boss, approving a vacation since wait. What vacation euros. A business owner, born to be your own boss and Amex, can help with finance options for eligible business customers, so you can keep doing what you were made to do the powerful back. Of American, Express don't do business without it terms, apply, learn more american, Express Dotcom, slash business
pressure. This is a very quick version. The fugitive slave ACT was part of the compromise of eighteen. Fifty it stated that people who had escaped enslavement and were found in states where slavery was abolished would still be shipped back to their owners, with the support of the federal government in their capture in return and that fugitive enslaved people were not entitled to jury trial and they could not testify on their own behalf in August of eighteen. Fifty just before the fugitive Slave ACT was past, Brown was improvidence, Rhode Island when he was assaulted in the street, was convinced him that it wasn't safe to stay in the United States. So he moved to England and took his stage show with him. He continued to perform his anti slavery act there and he added additional d to stay in the United States, so he moved to England and took his stage show with him. He continued to perform his anti slavery act there and he added additional dimensions to it in
One thousand eight hundred and fifty one Henry Box Brown also wrote a second memoir. This one titled narrative of the life of Henry Box Brown written by himself. In truth, it is almost exactly the same as the first book, although it is written unless flowery prose and includes additional feels, while Brown was always insistent that he had not been treated merely as badly as a lot of other enslaved people who wanted to add his voice to the other test, So much has already been written concerning the evils of slavery and by men, so much more able to portray its horrid form than I am that I might well be excused if I were to remain altogether silent on subjects. But, however much has been written. However much has been said and, however much has been done. I feel impelled by the voice of my own conscience from the recent experience which I have had of the alarming extent to which the traffic in human beings carried on and the cruelties, both bodily and mental, to which men and the condition of slaves are concerned,
which I have had of the alarming extent to which the traffic in human beings carried on and the cruelties, both bodily and mental, to which men and the condition of slaves are continually subjected and also from the hardening and blasting influences which this traffic produces on the character of those who thus treat as goods and chattels the bodies and souls of their fellow to add yet one other testimony of and protest against, this foul blot of the state of morals of religion and of cultivation and the American Republic, for I feel convinced that enough has not been written. Enough has not been said enough has not been
and, while merely for millions of human beings possessing a mortal souls, are in chains dragging out their existence in the southern states and just for the sake of transparency. The it is generally believed that Henry Box Brown did not actually write all of this, even though it is listed as written by himself that probably he verbally spoke of this and someone took it down and probably cleaned up the grammar for him. But it is basically the same story that he was telling on stage night after night after night, so it's corroborated in his his verbal history is there, someone wrote a completely different version of his life, so for the next twenty five years, Henry Box Brown lived and performed in England, and he also married a second wife. They are named Jane and they started a family together and during that time, in England, he continued to tell his tale of escape, but after his falling out with James Smith, has act
came less about abolition and more about magic, he would perform sleight of hand tricks where he transform them a nail and when a corn and on occasion he would stage- are reenactment of his box journey on stage which played out like a magicians escape trick, but with the The gravity of recalling his harrowing escape in eighteen, fifty one he staged a large scale, reenactment of his box, escape when he had himself shipped from Bradford to leaves and westward
I'll. Do it as something that was done among the enslaved people as entertainment, but ass, his active off his knowledge expanded and he started to transform himself into other stage persona is, he would sometimes dress as an african chief and walk through towns. He was touring into as an advertisement for his shows conjuring for this character version of himself, a noble lineage and all this done to entice an audience. He began to combine the worlds of MAGIC and FIAT says he and his axe started: exploring mesmerism and electro biology. And all this done to entice an audience. He began to combine the worlds of magic and fired, says he and his axe started. Exploring mesmerism and electro biology, there's been speculation
among brown biographers that the use of mesmerism are hypnotism, offered him a chance to try to control white audience members in turn about of the power dynamic from when he was enslaved. Henry Brown returned to the United States in eighteen. Seventy five with new family, his wife, Jane and their daughter Annie, and he built himself as Professor Box Brown and he continued detours entertainer, primarily in the northeast and then moving to Canada in the early eighteen. Eighties has act at this point had evolves so that
In addition, we were laying his personal story, which always could do a crowd. He would also do some of his tricks and also give brief scientific lectures. It also give musical performance, as under the heading Professor Box, Browns Troubadour Jubilee thinkers and which his family would perform. Song had been part of his act for a long time when he talked about slavery and abolition and he said to have had an outstanding voice. Henry Box Brown performed his magic ACT in Ontario Canada on February, twenty sixth of eighteen, eighty nine, and that is his last known stage, appearance for a long time. The date and place of his death were always recounted is unknown and a lot of sources you look at will still say they are not known,
but in recent years, Martha J Cutter, a professor of English and Africana studies at the University of Connecticut started, looking for documentation of the deaths and burials in the Toronto area and appears to have identified his death as June 15th, one thousand eight hundred and ninety seven, including locating his grave at the necropolis cemetery, and see Henry S first, wife, Nancy and therefore children together, we don't know if you thought them out once he was free or after slavery was abolished and they are what happened: sue Henry S, first, wife, Nancy and therefore children. Together, we don't know if you saw them once he was free or after slavery was abolished, and the following between Brown and James Smith. That happened back in eighteen. Fifty one was in part due to Smith's criticism that Henry Box Brown hadn't tried to buy his family's freedom.
yeah. We don't really know that whole story, though there for all we know he did look into it or maybe he could it because it was too painful. We have no idea it's really interesting. One of the things that that scholar we just mention Martha J cutter brought up in an article I was reading, was how, in a strange way Even though Henry Box Brown escaped slavery, he was sort of a slave to his own life story because he ended up telling it for decades, in decades, over even after it had been long, past abolition and not a tool to try to help educate people, but just became like part of this narrative that he had to live over and over, which was an interesting perspectives, have there's also a really beautiful version of the story from the Pied cast them.
Emory Palace is called picture a box. It's really fascinating and he used the actual box that he was shipped from Richmond to Philadelphia in as part of his stage show for a long time. So there's this whole gravity to all of that. Like I can't, I mean again it's from my perspective, which can't really understand his mind set at all, but, like I can't imagine, having to go through that over and over and re with what had been a terrifying, though. Ultimately, successful experience it's interesting thing about. I have listener meal. Yea, when it is about Andrew Carnegie is from our listener. Cathy. We have mentioned her on the show before we read her listener email about an lister, but she wrote this morning instead, I just finish the drew Carnegie episode towards the end. When you talked about Carnegie wanting to buy off the Kaiser to inward or one you said he was stopped by President Teddy Roosevelt. I'm sure you know that Teddy Roosevelt was president
I read your one and that Woodrow Wilson was maybe you are just trying to keep your listeners on our toes. So this is a clarification thing, because that is my clunky then pour synthesis of information, it was Roosevelt's, but here is what was actually playing out. It was a tip and the war, but to prevent it to begin with, so towards the end of the bosnian crisis, which is nice No nine. There were a lot of other things happening in Europe that were making it pretty apparent that war was a very likely possibility, and Teddy Roosevelt had promised Andrew Carnegie at that point that he would be his envoy of peace leaders of Europe that Carnegie, even though he was very influential at this point, just couldn't quite get connections to, and this was actually in exchange for Carnegie funding. One of Roosevelt Big Game expeditions in Africa, which was very
intensive and their Roosevelt had promised that he was going to talk to the Kaiser and explain that he would really all of their conversations to Carnegie, essentially acting a sort of a go between nineteen, ten Isabel did start is european tour and meeting of Keyser Wilhelm. The second was going to be part of that and he was going to try to broker this peace, but King Edward died in the midst of this process, which halted all diplomatic discussions, rules old and Wilhelm did meet, but only on officially, and they did not speak of the peace plan that Andrew Carnegie had devised, which was part of all of that. So that was poor way too, to put it in their. So that's my apology for being clunky, but I wanted to read this court
that colonel he wrote about how this whole thing played out any kind of evidences how unhappy he was and why he felt that his whole efforts at peace at the time were kind of a failure. He said quote: there has been a fatal flaw in my strategy to stop the war, the misplaced trust in those I counted on as my colleagues in my quest for peace, so he felt like he failed Interesting Roosevelt because he did not make good on his his promise to broker a peace. If you'd like to write You can do so at history, Pike Ass to house evokes dot com. You can also find us minced in history, dot com. We are everywhere on social media, as missed in history, seek and contact with their as well. If you want to visit that website missed in history, calm. We have bad catalogue of every episode that has ever existed ever buy gas, including shone out for the ones that Tracy and I have worked on so coming out with us online.
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