A Matter of Dates

Published:April 21, 2010 by Matthew

I received an anonymous comment last night related to our Henry “Box” Brown entry:

The date Henry Brown entered his box was March 29th, not March 23rd as written on this web page.

While one might believe with all credibility that the 29th is the correct date (after all Brown writes in his own narrative that he was shipped on 29 March, 1849 and thus this misstatement is picked up in other discussions and iterations including academic articles), evidence from primary documents contemporary to the escape actually supports the 23rd. In his study, The Unboxing of Henry Brown (pp. 27-38), Jeffrey Ruggles makes a well-documented case for the 23rd as the date that Samuel A. Smith of Richmond shipped Brown to James Miller McKim of Philadelphia. Based on the two men’s correspondence preserved in the McKim papers at Cornell University Library the date becomes clear particularly since McKim wrote letters on March 26 and March 28, 1849 that described the escape–which could not have been described had the escape taken place in the future (i.e. the 29th).

So, why does this matter? Well, getting this fact right won’t rid the world of hunger and it won’t dissipate the volcanic ash cloud over Europe, that is certain; however, as we have said elsewhere in this blog, “Why else have an encyclopedia if not to [try our best to] insure the correct facts?”