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Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown Hardcover – March 14, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0195148534 ISBN-10: 0195148533 Edition: New edition

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Narratives recorded by fugitive slaves in the antebellum South or former slaves after the Civil War were promoted by abolitionists and sold at antislavery meetings. This genre documented the harsh reality of slavery, the desire for personal and economic freedom, and the relationships between blacks and whites. Well known among African American scholars (the manuscript was first published in 1849), Brown's story was brought to the publisher's attention by Newman (W.E.B. DuBois Inst.). It is a testament to ingenuity and fortitude. Strongly motivated by the sale of his wife and children, in 1849 Brown escaped from servitude by having himself crated in a box 3' long x 2' wide. and shipped to an abolitionist in Philadelphia. After his 27-hour, 350-mile journey, he emerged to drink a glass of water and sing the 40th psalm. Not unexpectedly, word of his unorthodox journey spread to bring him celebrity status. Brown became a lecturer on the abolitionist circuit, singing his songs and telling his story. In his introduction, Newman delineates the circumstances of Brown's escape, the many instances of slave resistance, and the development of the slave narrative. A brief foreword by Henry Louis Gates, chair of African American studies at Harvard, relates the significance of Brown's tale. This important and moving document is recommended for academic libraries. Kathleen M. Conley, Illinois State Univ., Normal
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Apologists for the antebellum South often assert that slavery was "not that bad." This compact, engrossing narrative certainly belies those claims. Brown was a slave in Virginia, where conditions for slaves were supposedly less onerous than in the Deep South. Yet Brown's description of daily slave life is infuriating and chilling. He recounts the constant intimidation, the countless humiliations, and the occasional but sickening physical brutality that slaves endured. Perhaps the most heartbreaking and terrifying threat was the possibility that one's family could be split apart forever if a family member was "sold south." When Brown's family was sold, he determined to escape to the North. The story of that escape provides an inspiring and thrilling climax to what otherwise would be a depressive chronicle of human cruelty and degradation. This is an important work that is necessary for all who wish to appreciate the bitter harvest of our "peculiar institution" of slavery. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; New edition edition (March 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195148533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195148534
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 0.6 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,484,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By BeachReader on September 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This genre, the slave narrative, created by fugitive slaves, is one that I knew nothing about, but was one that fascinated audiences and often made celebrities out of their authors. Narratives written by escaped slaves were very popular in the mid 1800s as they recounted stories of abuse, cruelty, escape, and their lives as free people in the north.
None of these slave narratives was as curious and compelling as that of Henry "Box" Brown, who actually boxed himself up and shipped himself to freedom in 1849, from Virginia to an abolitionist in Philadelphia. Risking death and/or suffocation to be free showed the desperation of the slaves even in a state like Virginia, where cruelty was purported to be less than in other parts of the south. Brown's story showed this not to be true. His escape was motivated by the sale of his wife and children, sent to parts unknown and never seen again.
His book was originally written by a Charles Stearns, described as a radical, argumentative ideologue and was written in an overwrought style.
Brown fled to England in 1850 when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. He was a controversial figure, criticized for revealing how he escaped (and profiting from this) rather than sharing it with other slaves who might have used the same method.
When Brown got to England, his book was re-written in a more honest and simple style, and the edition that I am reviewing is the American version of that book. The difference is that this book is said to be written in Brown's voice and the lack of turgid prose makes it 20+ pages shorter.
I have my doubts if this was Brown's voice...it seems to be the voice of a well-spoken, educated person with a large vocabulary, capable of complex sentence structure and high levels of organization.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on May 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
We may be thankful that we are no longer producing a particularly American form of literature, the slave narrative. Hundreds of slaves told their stories in the nineteenth century, making some money thereby and striking a blow against slavery when their stories were used as abolitionist tracts. One of the most incredible was the _Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown_ (Oxford University Press). That "Box" as a middle name was adopted by Brown in commemoration of the method by which he gained his freedom. He had himself crated up and shipped from slavery to liberty. His audacious plan worked, and this is his story.
Remarkably, this is the first time this edition has been printed in the US. Brown writes in his preface, "The tale of my own sufferings is not one of great interest to those who delight to read of hair-breadth adventures, of tragic occurrences, and scenes of blood - my life, even in slavery, has been in many respects comparatively comfortable." Of course the telling word there is "comparatively." The torture worse than any was worry about his family being sold away, and eventually they were, and he never saw them again. The other main theme in his pre-box narrative is the involvement of the church in supporting slavery, a hypocrisy which revolts Brown, a religious man. The loss of his family convinced Brown to make his remarkable escape: "The idea suddenly flashed upon my mind of shutting myself up in a box and getting myself conveyed as dry goods to a free state." He arranged to have himself nailed into a wooden crate, 37 by 24 by 30 inches, lined in baize. He was shipped by dray, railroad car, steamboat, and horse cart, 350 miles from Richmond to Philadelphia in 27 hours.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very interesting historical account of a man who had himself mailed to freedom. Imagine the discomfort, and the ultimate exhilaration.
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By Lydia Ipswitch on October 29, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book for a class I was taking on Slave Literature. It was a very interesting account of slavery in general, and it provides a great perspective of what it was like to be a slave during this period.
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