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What Was the Most Daring Escape from Slavery?

The most daring escape from slavery is arguably that of Henry "Box" Brown, who in 1849 mailed himself to freedom in a wooden crate. His audacious journey from Virginia to Philadelphia symbolizes the unyielding human spirit's quest for liberty. Imagine the courage it took to embark on such a perilous path to emancipation. What would you risk for freedom? Continue with Brown's incredible story.

Sometimes, thinking inside the box is a good idea. For an enslaved Virginia man named Henry Brown, a simple box probably saved his life and certainly gave him the freedom that so many others were denied.

In 1849, Brown could only watch as his wife and three children were sold away, and he knew he had reached a pivotal moment in his life. Rather than let the agony continue, Brown and a friend built a wooden box big enough for Brown to squeeze into. The friend delivered the package to a local shipping company, where Brown began a long, bumpy, and painful trip to freedom.

In 1849, an enslaved Virginia man named Henry Brown had himself packed in a box and mailed to freedom in Philadelphia.
In 1849, an enslaved Virginia man named Henry Brown had himself packed in a box and mailed to freedom in Philadelphia.

"I felt my eyes swelling as though they would burst from their sockets, and the veins on my temples were dreadfully distended with pressure of blood upon my head," Brown wrote later. "I felt a cold sweat coming over me that seemed to be warning that death was about to terminate my earthly miseries."

Finally, after more than an entire day of jostling and jarring, Brown arrived in Philadelphia, where he stepped out of the box a free man. Brown would go on to become a noted abolitionist speaker and, later, a magician and showman.

Some surprises about slavery:

  • During the Atlantic slave trade, an estimated 12.5 million Africans were taken from their homes and transported to the Americas.

  • The phrase "sold down the river" comes from the slave trade, in which being sent father south often meant particularly grueling conditions for slaves.

  • Only around 5% of enslaved Africans were brought to the United States after completing the Middle Passage -- the vast majority went to Brazil and the Caribbean.

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    • In 1849, an enslaved Virginia man named Henry Brown had himself packed in a box and mailed to freedom in Philadelphia.
      In 1849, an enslaved Virginia man named Henry Brown had himself packed in a box and mailed to freedom in Philadelphia.