Today marks the beginning of our “This Day” feature on the Encyclopedia Virginia blog, highlighting content from our best entries.
On this day in 1849 — a Saturday — James Miller McKim made a special trip to the office. I’m sure there was a certain amount of thumb-twiddling and nervous fidgeting until finally the delivery boy showed up, the receipt was signed, and a three-by-two-by-two-foot crate was unloaded. Once the boy had left, McKim used a pry bar and carefully opened the crate.
You may already know what happened next. “I rose a freeman,” Henry Brown later wrote, “but I was too weak, by reason of long confinement in that box, to be able to stand, so I immediately swooned away.”
“I had risen,” he wrote, “as it were from the dead.”
Powerful stuff. After a little more than a day’s journey, and with the help of a free black and a white slaveowner, Brown had escaped enslavement in Richmond and now was free. For more, check out our entry on Henry Box Brown. And it’s worth mentioning that for this occasion, we’ve completely revamped the article. This is one of the great advantages of being on the web. If we’re not satisfied with something, we can improve it. And in this case, not only were we not satisfied, but new information has come to light. Until recently, the last known record of Brown was a performance he gave in 1878. He billed himself as “Prof. H. Box Brown” and worked as a magician. (In England, after a nasty falling out with one of the men who helped him escape, he had made his living as a hypnotist.) Anyway, a newspaper report now has surfaced placing the professor in Canada as late as 1889.
So click on the entry and read about the professor, the hypnotist, the African Prince, and the men who helped him find freedom.