Henry Box Brown – The Slave Who Mailed Himself To Freedom

One man's daring and dangerous quest for freedom

Early on the morning of March 24, 1849, a box was delivered to 107 North Fifth Street in Philadelphia. These were the offices of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. Several members of that organization had gathered that Saturday morning, anxiously awaiting the arrival of this package that had been shipped the day before from Richmond, Virginia.

When the box had been brought in, and the doors of the room locked so that there would be no untimely interruptions, one of the waiting men did something strange. Leaning over the box, he tapped on it and quietly asked, “Is all right within?” Even more strangely, a voice replied from inside the box, “All right.”

Within a few minutes the box was opened, and its contents revealed. He was an African American man in his early thirties by the name of Henry Brown. And he had just succeeded in escaping from slavery by shipping himself as freight to this city in the free state of Pennsylvania. In honor of this very creative but extremely dangerous feat, he would forever after be known as Henry “Box” Brown.

He had a mesmerizing story to tell.

Resurrection of Henry Box Brown
Resurrection of Henry Box Brown | Source

Henry Brown’s life as a Virginia slave

Henry Brown was born in 1815 or 1816 in Louisa County, Virginia. His first owner was former Richmond mayor, John Barret. As a slaveholder, Barret was atypical. He treated his slaves much better than was the norm, so much so that Brown described him in his autobiography as “uncommonly kind,” adding wryly that “even a slaveholder may be kind.”

When Barret lay dying, he sent for Brown and his mother. They came, as Brown says, “with beating hearts and highly elated feelings.” Because of the kind treatment his family had always received from their master, and especially in light of the fact that Barret’s son Charles, impressed with the evils of slavery, had at one time emancipated about 40 of his slaves, Henry fully expected Barret to announce that he was setting the Brown family free. Instead, Barret simply told Henry that he would now belong to his son William, and urged him to be obedient to his new owner.

Barret probably felt he had done all he could for Henry, short of freeing him. He extracted a promise from William that he would treat Henry kindly, and never have him whipped. William was faithful to that promise. Henry was sure that there were many times when only William’s insistent instructions to the overseer that he be treated well saved him from the lash.

What Barret did not consider, as it seemed slaveholders almost never did, was that in dividing his slaves as an inheritance among his sons, he was ripping apart a family. Members of the Brown family were given to each of the four Barret sons. Even though Henry’s mother and sister joined him as part of William’s inheritance, they were ultimately separated by Henry being sent to work in a tobacco factory in Richmond. He was then about 15 years of age.

Henry "Box" Brown
Henry "Box" Brown

Love and marriage

In 1836, as he entered his twenties, Henry fell in love with a young woman named Nancy. She was the slave of a Mr. Leigh, a bank clerk. Since slave marriages required the masters’ permission, Henry went to his own master and to Mr. Leigh to ask not only that he and Nancy be allowed to marry, but also for assurances that they would not be sold away from one another. Mr. Leigh was particularly strong in his commitment. Henry recalled that “He promised faithfully that he would not sell her, and pretended to entertain an extreme horror of separating families.” Secure in that promise, Henry and his bride were able to set up housekeeping together. But true to what Henry had come to expect from slaveholders, it was not more than a year after their marriage that Mr. Leigh broke his promise and sold Nancy.

This sale, and another that eventually followed, were to owners who lived in Richmond, and Henry and Nancy were able to maintain their family despite these upheavals. They had three children together, and were expecting their fourth when the long feared blow finally struck them.

Another family ripped apart

On that day in 1848, Henry left home as usual to go to his work. His autobiography recounts the horrific news that was soon brought to him: “I had not been many hours at my work, when I was informed that my wife and children were taken from their home, sent to the auction mart and sold, and then lay in prison ready to start away the next day for North Carolina with the man who had purchased them. I cannot express, in language, what were my feelings on this occasion.”

Slave family on the auction block, Richmond, VA, 1861
Slave family on the auction block, Richmond, VA, 1861 | Source

Henry’s family became part of a group of 350 slaves purchased by a slave-trading Methodist minister. Although he tried in every way he could to find a means of getting his family back, nothing worked. When he pleaded with his master for help, the man would say nothing more than, “you can get another wife.” Henry was finally reduced to watching from the street as his wife and children, along with the other slaves, were herded into wagons for their journey to an auction block in North Carolina, and out of his life forever. He never saw them again.

The decision to escape slavery

With the loss of his family, Henry became determined to escape the hopeless oppression of slavery. He was a man of faith, a member of the First African Baptist Church where he sang in the choir. He was also a man of prayer. As he recalled, it was while he was fervently praying concerning his plight “when the idea suddenly flashed across my mind of shutting myself up in a box, and getting myself conveyed as dry goods to a free state.” Henry was convinced that it was God Himself who inserted that thought into his mind. He immediately went to work to put his plan into action.

He secured the help of a free black man and fellow choir member by the name of James Caesar Anthony Smith. He also solicited the aid of Samuel Smith (no relation to James), a white storekeeper with whom he had done business. Although Samuel Smith had been a slave owner, Henry was convinced of his integrity and believed he could trust him to help. Henry offered him half of his savings of $166 (he actually gave him $86), and Smith agreed to participate in the escape effort. It was Samuel Smith who contacted an acquaintance, Philadelphia abolitionist James Miller McKim, and arranged for him to receive the shipment.

Henry hired a carpenter to construct the box, which was 3 ft long, 2 ft wide, 2.5 ft deep, and lined with a coarse woolen cloth. It had just three small air holes where his face would be to allow him to breathe. A sign was attached that read “This Side Up With Care,” since for a human being to be kept in a head-down orientation for any length of time is extremely dangerous. Once inside the box, Henry would be entirely unable to shift his position.

Early in the morning of Friday, March 23, 1849, Henry climbed into the box. He carried nothing with him but a small bladder of water and a few crackers. The two Smiths nailed the box shut and lashed it with straps, then conveyed it to the facility of the Adams Express Company, about a mile away.

A harrowing journey

True to the traditions maintained by freight handlers to this day, the “This Side Up With Care” sign was totally ignored. Henry recalled, “I had no sooner arrived at the office than I was turned heels up, while some person nailed something on the end of the box. I was then put upon a wagon and driven off to the depot with my head down, and I had no sooner arrived at the depot, than the man who drove the wagon tumbled me roughly into the baggage car, where, however, I happened to fall on my right side.”

There were several times during the trip when Henry was left in an upside down position. One particular time almost killed him: “I felt my eyes swelling as if they would burst from their sockets; and the veins on my temples were dreadfully distended with pressure of blood upon my head. In this position I attempted to lift my hand to my face but I had no power to move it; I felt a cold sweat coming over me which seemed to be a warning that death was about to terminate my earthly miseries.” Just in time, two men looking for a place to sit turned the box right side up to make it a comfortable seat, and Henry was saved.

Henry's box and his song
Henry's box and his song

A song of praise

Henry had to endure 27 hours in his cramped and stifling hot enclosure before arriving at the Anti-Slavery Society’s offices on that notable Saturday morning. It’s no wonder that when the box was opened and he tried to stand, he lost consciousness. But Henry was dauntless. As soon as he was brought back to consciousness, he carried out the plan he had made for celebrating his safe arrival. Like Neil Armstrong when he stepped for the first time on the surface of the moon, Henry had prepared what he would say when he stepped for the first time into freedom. As he put it,

I had risen as it were from the dead; I felt much more than I could readily express; but as the kindness of Almighty God had been so conspicuously shown in my deliverance, I burst forth into the following hymn of thanksgiving…

He then went on to sing his own version of Psalm 40, “I waited patiently, I waited patiently for the Lord, for the Lord; And he inclined unto me, and heard my calling.” From then on, in the hundreds of times Henry would tell his story, this psalm was always part of his presentation.

A secret that could not be kept

Henry Brown’s parcel-post escape from slavery was, of course, an exciting and compelling story. At first, the Anti-Slavery society tried to keep it from getting out so that others could use the same method. But keeping that kind of secret was impossible. In its edition of April 12, 1849, less than a month after Henry arrived in Philadelphia, the Courier newspaper of Burlington, Vermont published a somewhat garbled version of the story. Other papers soon picked it up.

With the story of his escape no longer a secret, abolitionists knew that Henry Box Brown could be a potent ally in their cause. He soon began speaking to abolitionist meetings, and became a very effective advocate for the elimination of American slavery. It turned out that the creativity Henry displayed in devising his means of escape was no fluke. In 1849 he hired artists and craftsmen to produce a panorama that as it was unrolled revealed 49 scenes from his life as a slave. It was called Henry “Box” Brown’s Mirror of Slavery, and it was a powerful illustration in his anti-slavery talks. He also published, with Charles Stearns, his autobiography called Narrative of Henry Box Brown, Who Escaped from Slavery, Enclosed in a Box 3 Feet Long and 2 Wide. Written from a Statement of Facts Made by Himself. With Remarks Upon the Remedy for Slavery.

With all his success and fame, Henry “Box” Brown was still legally a slave. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in August, 1850, it was no longer safe for him to remain in a country where any slave catcher had a legal right to grab him and carry him back into slavery. So, in October of that year he sailed for England. He remained there, traveling throughout the United Kingdom presenting his panorama, until 1875, when he returned to the United States. He had remarried in England, and brought his new wife and daughter with him.

At that point, ten years after the close of the Civil War, the anti-slavery crusade was moot. So, Henry and his family made their living performing together an act called, “the African Prince’s Drawing-Room Entertainment” in which Henry appeared as “Prof. H. Box Brown.” Their last known performance was reported by a newspaper in Brantford, Ontario on February 26, 1889. Nothing is known of what happened to Henry and his family after that time. The date and place of his death are unknown.

Henry in his box as depicted in a one-act play
Henry in his box as depicted in a one-act play | Source

The legacy of Henry “Box” Brown

Other attempts to use Henry’s method of escaping slavery were made. In fact, the two Smiths who had helped him, James and Samuel, were both caught aiding other fugitives and put on trial. James was acquitted, and moved North. Samuel, however, was convicted and served about seven years in prison for his commitment to freedom for slaves.

The ordeal that Henry “Box” Brown endured in order to be delivered out of slavery was not unique. Many others braved terrors as severe in their own quest for freedom. Although the publicity surrounding his means of escape precluded it being used, as premier abolitionist Frederick Douglass had hoped, by “a thousand Box Browns per annum,” the story of Henry “Box” Brown provided something beyond just one successful method for escaping slavery. It provided inspiration and hope to thousands, both black and white, that with the help of God, good can indeed triumph over evil. And that hope still lives today.

© 2013 Ronald E. Franklin

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Comments 53 comments

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 3 years ago from Spicewood, Texas

What an incredible story! One that I had not heard before.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Silva!

Rosalyn 3 years ago

Thanks for this information. It will really held me with our history in explaining it to the children.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Rosalyn! I hope the children are blessed by it.

ryanraff profile image

ryanraff 3 years ago

I have never heard this piece of history before and I'm so glad I did. How amazing and ingenious! Nice hub!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Ryan. I'm finding that there are many of these amazing stories that seem to have been generally forgotten. But there's great inspiration in them, and they need to be restored to prominence in our age. Glad you liked it!

mintinfo profile image

mintinfo 3 years ago

That was an extraudenary story. Thanks for keeping it alive Ron. I suffer mental trauma when past injustices to Blacks are revealed. Then I blame religion in particular (no offense to those of faith) for holding us in bondage for so long. Is it that we just were not creative enough? Henry “Box” Brown's story reveals otherwise. Slavery was a lesson in the pitfalls of complacency that hopefully all Black people will learn from.

MsDora profile image

MsDora 3 years ago from The Caribbean

Amazing! To God be the glory that he escaped; we still dread the horror of what happened to his family. There's still hope that one day we will overcome altogether.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, mintinfo. I'm always encouraged by people who didn't allow their circumstances to overwhelm their lives. Henry was certainly one of those. You mention religion. To their great discredit many people justified slavery on spurious religious grounds. But many others, including most abolitionists, fought slavery because of their Christian convictions.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for reading, MsDora. The fact that people who so greatly valued their own families, as most Southerners did, could coldly break apart slave families with no evidence of remorse is hard to understand. To me that's the most heart-wrenching part of Henry's story.

Rebecca Furtado profile image

Rebecca Furtado 2 years ago from Anderson, Indiana

Wow, what a great story. I wish they would use more of these detailed stories in history text books. It is one thing to tell kids slavery broke up families, but this story shows the immense nature of the event. Once a man loses his family here he must escape so he never loses another family or die trying! I had heard about someone mailing themselves to freedom but did not know the details. Love this stuff.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks so much, Rebecca. It's amazing to me that as dramatic as Henry's story is, it's not more widely known. There are still, to this day, people who think slavery in the old South wasn't really that bad for slaves. That slave husbands, wives, and children could be sold away from one another at the whim of an owner by itself demonstrates what a lie that notion is.

porto 2 years ago

who did he maire?

pagesvoice profile image

pagesvoice 2 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

I'm glad I stumbled across this story that was not only informative, but extremely well written. As you mention, this article is yet another piece of history that needs to be told so that we never forget the struggles of those who walked before us.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, pagesvoice. Henry's story is both inspiring and informative in a day in which some people wonder if African Americans weren't better off as slaves. I wish the entire nation could be reminded of it.

aka-rms profile image

aka-rms 2 years ago from USA

Wow, I had never heard Henry's incredible story before. Thanks for sharing it.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, aka-rms. Now that "12 Years A Slave" has become an Oscar winner, maybe somebody will film Henry's story. Could be a great movie!

techygran profile image

techygran 2 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

Hi RonElFran-- your beautiful presentation of this story ensures that it will be shared widely and many more people will have a more accurate perspective on the horrendous history of American slavery. I appreciate your eloquence in attention to the details of Henry's being shipped in the box, and of the heartbreak of separation from his family. Voted up and Awesome and sharing! ~Cynthia

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Cynthia, I really appreciate that. For me Henry's story is a powerful and inspirational one that more people ought to know about. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment.

Jay C OBrien profile image

Jay C OBrien 2 years ago from Houston, TX USA

You mentioned an interesting point, "When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in August, 1850, it was no longer safe for him to remain in a country where any slave catcher had a legal right to grab him and carry him back into slavery. So, in October of that year he sailed for England."

England abolished slavery around 1820. Had the American Colonists not revolted, the issue of slavery would have been settled. The Revolutionary War continued slavery in America which eventually led to the Civil War. This is a great example of how war breeds war.

You might review the Hub, "Patrick Henry and Mental Health."

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks for your input, Jay.

Heidi Vincent profile image

Heidi Vincent 2 years ago from GRENADA

I never heard of Henry Box Brown before. This is a very interesting slavery account. Thank you for sharing it!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thank you, Heidi. I remain amazed that nobody has seen what great movie material there is in this story. It's a part of our history that needs to be far better known than it is.

Kappygirl profile image

Kappygirl 21 months ago

How excellent, both your article and his escape! Thank you for sharing such an interesting story. I had never heard of Henry "Box" Brown. We take so many of our freedoms for granted--I don't know if I would have made it.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 21 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Kappygirl, Henry's story is, to me, a measure of just how great the hunger for freedom was for enslaved people. To say he was risking his life is to understate the case. But he felt it was worth it. I, too, wonder if I would have had the courage and the fortitude to do what he did. Thanks so much for reading and sharing.

alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 18 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

Hello again Ron, another piece of solid journalism.

At the onset of war in the 1770's one of George Washington's slaves was told, when he asked if the slaves were to be freed, that his status would not change when the American colony gained its freedom from Britain.

In a raid along the coast a British army company went to support loyalists but were ambushed. In their retreat they gathered a number of slaves together and brought them here, where they were treated as freed.

William Wilberforce still had an uphill task to abolish slavery in Parliament almost a hundred years later, and there were ownership issues across Britain. The Church of England had shares in the West Indian plantations and campaigned against Wilberforce as much as the other owners/shareholders.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 18 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Hi, Alan. I knew that some slaves fought for the British on the promise of being freed, but I wasn't aware that some were taken back to England. Sounds like a great story. So is the story of William Wilberforce. I'm definitely planning to learn more about his crusade against slavery. Thanks for sharing this.

LongTimeMother profile image

LongTimeMother 18 months ago from Australia

What a roller-coaster of emotions in this story, Ron. As pleased as I am that Henry managed to escape, and seemed to have found happiness with a new family, I can't stop thinking about Nancy.

Did she learn about Henry's escape as news spread around the country? If so, I'm sure she was rejoicing.

Did she hear word of his performances with his new wife and child after his return from the UK? If so, I'm not sure quite how she would have felt.

Questions raised by this excellent piece of writing will stay with me for a long time. Sometimes in real life, a happy ending is not always quite as happy as I'd like. But that's life, isn't it?

Voted up ++.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 18 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

LongTimeMother, you know, I'm sorry to say I never really thought much about what Nancy's life must have been like after she was forcibly separated from her husband. If she survived the Civil War, it would have been almost two decades before she was free to look for Henry. By that time, he would have been out of the news many years, so I think she probably never heard what happened to him. Tragically, the unimaginable horror of having to move on with life after having a spouse ripped out of your life by being sold away was not uncommon. I can only hope she found a good life for herself and her children. Thanks for reading and sharing.

MarleneB profile image

MarleneB 18 months ago from Northern California, USA

What an incredible story. I had heard of Henry "Box" Brown when I was younger (probably had to study it in school), but today I had forgotten who he was and why he was called by that name. His story is one of hope. You have told his story well.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 18 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks so much, MarleneB. I'm still amazed that nobody has realized what a great and inspiring movie Henry's story would make. Perhaps someday that will happen.

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 18 months ago from sunny Florida

This story gives new meaning to the expression

'where there's a will, there's a way.

'Box' willingly risked it all to find freedom. What an inspiration to those of his time and to those of us who came after.

Voted up ++++ and shared, Ron

Angels are winging their way to you this evening ps

poetryman6969 profile image

poetryman6969 18 months ago

Sounds like one of those things you fear is apocryphal but you hope is true.

People should win out against all odds to give others hope.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 18 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks much, pstraubie48. To me Henry's story shows up the "contented slave" idea as the myth it was.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 18 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, poetryman6969.

FatBoyThin profile image

FatBoyThin 17 months ago from Kinneff, Scotland

I’ve heard the name Henry Box Brown before but didn’t realise it referred to an actual box! Fascinating story and very well told. Voted up.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 17 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, FatBoyThin. There are probably a lot who, like you, have heard the name but don't know the story. I think it's a story very much worth telling.

B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 13 months ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

That story shows how evil slavery was. These days people continue to escape by any means possible from slavery (such as in Maurtania) and tyranny.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 13 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Brian, it's amazing to me that in the 21st century slavery still exists in our world. Evil indeed.

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 9 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Ron, congrats on this lens for HOTD! This was a fascinating and remarkable story for this some feat. Real interesting and amazing to know how he escaped via a cardboard box delivery for freedom. Thanks for sharing!

beverley byer profile image

beverley byer 9 months ago from United States of America

Wow! Thanks for this bit of history and pretty good writing too!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 9 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, Kristen. Henry's story shows the lengths slaves would go, and the risks they were willing to take, to be free. Cliven Bundy (Mr. "they were better off as slaves") please take note!

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 9 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thank you, Beverley. It's a powerful story.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 9 months ago from the short journey

Thank you for this post on Henry Box Brown that reminds us of just how low the fallen state of mankind can make people go in harming one another. Congratulations on your Hub of the Day award for this work. It is a great thing that we can be thankful for the education that allowed this man to express himself eloquently and help him personally not to give up in the face of his deeply felt troubles.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 9 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks, RTalloni. I have to say that I still don't understand how the "good" people of the South could convince themselves that holding people in bondage, and breaking families apart forever, was acceptable.

Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 9 months ago from Southern Georgia

A very interesting hub which relates a tale of bravery and the desperation of a man who risked his life for the taste of freedom. It well deserves being chosen for HOTD. My ancestors were slave owners and I cannot forgive them for their mindset during this tragic time in our history.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 9 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thank you, Randy. I very much appreciate that.

gerimcclym profile image

gerimcclym 9 months ago from Colorado

An incredible story, not only that Henry Brown shipped himself in a box, but that he survived the 27 hours of travel inside the box. It is heartbreaking to know he never saw his first wife and children again in this life. This article really brings home the inhumane treatment of slaves as well as the extent a man will go to for freedom. Thank you for sharing Henry Brown's story.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 9 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thanks much, gerimcclym. As you note, I think the most horrific part of Henry's story is that individuals who probably thought of themselves as "good" people had no compunction about ripping a family apart, and dividing a father from his wife and children, forever. I still struggle to understand how people could live with themselves after doing something like that.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 9 months ago from the short journey

In reply to your comment on mine–not understanding how "good people of the South…"–there are many facets of the picture to consider. Just because some people are called good does not mean they are so. There have always been a wide range of good and bad people in the norths and souths of every nation. Slavery and its horrors are not unique to America.

That said, in the south back then there were truly good people who did try to help slaves, and yes, some of those good people did own slaves, but it is important to remember that those kinds of owners actually did protect the people by buying them. What those owners worked toward, what they dealt with, what they went through in their efforts are not things we can address stereotypically if we want to be realistic about the truth.

For instance, they kept families together and they secretly educated their slaves with a view of helping them more in the future. They tried to work within the parameters of their socio-political climate to settle the issue and avoid war, but they were outnumbered by people who had other goals (both north and south) and they were hampered by dangers for all concerned. That they could not do all that they wanted is not a reflection on their valiant efforts, but of what greed does to fallen people of all races.

Though the history is tragic, the topic is huge, and it is complicated. It must be carefully dissected and looked at from an honest gathering of all facts about everyone involved from beginning to end. Only a true effort to put ourselves in those times can help us see anything about the insanity of the evils at work.

The southern heritage promoted in the media/entertainment and so hated (including by a large segment of the southern population) is only one southern group's heritage. It traps all southerner's into a false stereotype that damages everyone. Buying into that trap casts a thick fog over the unchanging truths that other southerner's of that day held to in the best way they knew how under the circumstances of their times. They weren't the largest group of all the groups of people involved, but that does not change the facts about their efforts or circumstances.

One example:

Though imperfect, as all people in all times are, it is unfair to judge such people from our vantage point. It is only fair to study out every angle of their motivation and circumstances before making any evaluation about them.

Anne Harrison profile image

Anne Harrison 9 months ago from Australia

Such an amazing story - thank you so much sharing. and congratulations on HOTD.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 8 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Hi, RTalloni, and thanks for a thoughtful comment. If I understand you, your concern is that all the people of the Civil War era South should not be painted as immoral and heartless because they supported slavery. You are right, many did not, and some courageously attempted to better the lot of enslaved people through education and even assisting them to escape.

However, the fact is that by the eve of the war, dissent on the issue of slavery was not tolerated in the South. People who considered themselves to embody the moral standards of Southern society where firm supporters of the institution. An example would be the family of Dr. Charles Colcock Jones of Liberty County, Georgia. As described in the book "The Children of Pride," the Rev. Dr. Jones was so actively concerned with the spiritual welfare of slaves that he became known as "Apostle to the Blacks." Yet he and his family were staunch supporters of secession and of slavery. When I used the term "good," it was people like the Jones family I had in mind - people who thought of themselves as "good people" and upholders of Christian values, but who somehow did not see the evil inherent in slavery as being totally antithetical to those values. That's what I am still trying to understand.

I agree that "it is unfair to judge such people from our vantage point." But I don't think it at all unfair to judge the actions of people (not the people themselves) according to the timeless standards of Christian morality that they themselves acknowledged. The Grimke sisters are a great example. They stood for the right while much of the rest of the South excoriated them as hated Abolitionists. Their example shows that people can rise above the orthodoxies of their time to stand for truths that are timeless.

In my opinion, none of us can escape being judged by that standard.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 8 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA Author

Thank you, Anne. I think Henry's story is an important one even for us today, and I'm glad to help make it better known.

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