Henry ‘Box’ Brown

Need to add links last para

Wolverhampton and Staffordshire Herald sued

In the 19th century an interesting legal case developed in the town. Henry Box Brown, an escaped American slave (slavery was still legal in America) successfully sued the Wolverhampton Herald in 1852.

Brown was touring England with a show depicting the evils of slavery and alleged that the Herald’s review of the show as a ‘gross and palpable exaggeration’ had kept the Wolverhampton public away and lost him money.

Taking into account the personal insults contained in the article, the judge awarded him £100 damages, a considerable sum in those days.

The resurrection of Henry Box Brown in Philidelphia

The Full Story of Henry ‘Box’ Brown

The man who mailed himself to freedom

Henry ‘Box’ Brown was so desperate to escape the life he lived as a slave on a southern plantation that he mailed himself to an address in the north. He was packed inside a small crate labelled ‘dry goods’ which travelled 350 miles by rail via the Adams Express Company from Richmond, Virginia to William H. Johnson, an abolitionist sympathiser in Philadelphia.

The box, constructed by a black carpenter named John Mattaner, was just three feet long and two feet wide. The duration of the journey lasted 27 hours and at least part of the way Henry was upside down and close to death through lack of air. When the lid was lifted, it is reported, that Henry rose out of the box and said, “How do you do, gentlemen?” then fainted. Having made it to freedom, he went on to become a lecturer on the abolitionist circuit telling his story far and wide.

19th Century America was split between the pro-slave South and the abolitionist North. When the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed encouraging the North American states to apprehend escaped slaves for return to the South, Henry Brown, fearful once more for his life, fled to England and settled in Manchester.

The Narrative of the Life of Henry ‘Box’ Brown. Written by Henry Box Brown and Published by Oxford University Press (Introduction by Richard Newman and Foreword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.). Also transcribed by Documenting the American South

For more information on Hidden History – with London connections read, Stephen Bourne’s book: Speak to Me as I AmThe black presence in Southwark since 1600. ISBN – 090584942-6, Available from: Southwark Studies Library, 211 Borough High St, London SE1-1JA.  

Areas covered, Camberwell’s first black citizen, Black Victorians, including – Ira Aldridge, Mary Seacole and the Jubilee Singers. Black Edwardian – entertainers and personalities such as; Paul Robeson, Elizabeth Welch, Connie Smith – Britain’s oldest and most respected black actress and Dr. Harold Moody and his family. There are also references to modern day greats, such as, Rio Ferdinand and filming in Peckham with American actor Denzel Washington.