On March 23, 1849, Henry Brown began one of the most dramatic escapes from slavery in American history. A friend named Samuel A. Smith helped Brown hide in a box that shipped from Richmond to Philadelphia. In just over 24 hours, with hardly any food and water and partly upside-down, Henry Brown traveled by wagon, train, and boat until leaders of the Underground Railroad opened his box in Philadelphia.
James Miller McKim and William Still, the son of former slaves, helped free Henry “Box” Brown and set him on a course to become one of antebellum America’s most famous escaped slaves.
Discuss the book and the main character Henry Brown. What do we already know about Henry Brown? What do we know about slavery in the United States? Talk about the Underground Railroad and railroad terminology. Can anyone name another famous slave who used the Underground Railroad to gain freedom?
While reading the book, think about the experiences of Henry Brown. Henry constantly thought about freedom. What does freedom mean to you?
Describe the story in your own words. What is the sequence of events? How did Henry come to be free? What do you think would have happened to Henry if he was caught? Was it dangerous for Dr. Smith to help Henry? What do you think would have happened to Dr. Smith if he was caught helping him escape? Would you have run away like Henry? Why or why not? How would you plan your escape? How was the Underground Railroad different and or similar to a real railroad?
In reading this story and engaging in a fun learning activity, young readers will build reading skills, develop critical thinking skills, and make connections between characters in stories and real people.
Henry chose to go to Philadelphia because it was a place where he could be free. Think about a place that represents freedom to you. Where would you go if you were Henry “Box” Brown? Use the attached activity sheet to write your destination.
Narrative of Henry Brown: http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/brownbox/brownbox.html
Library of Congress Henry Brown: https://www.loc.gov/item/2004665363/
Henry’s Box Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/rbpe.06501600/
Copyright: January 1, 2007
Publisher: Scholastic Press