Free to Love

Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

Today I write about not who I thought I would but about Henry “Box” Brown, one of the most famous runaway slaves of the Underground Railroad because he mailed himself to freedom. Henry has been on my mind because of a statement an old acquaintance made when she found out I was a stay at home mom. Referring to her brief time off with her child, she said, “I was bored. I didn’t know what to do.” I told her that I had heard that before. With others the statement had been apologetic as if the women were sorry they didn’t have the stamina to hold their post at home. But there were no apologies with this woman. With a raised eyebrow, the squint of the opposite eye, and the slow shake of her head, she said, “Go ahead. I couldn’t do it.” Then I thought about Henry and his mom and how they would have loved to be in this woman’s place.

As a boy in the early 1800s, Henry’s master took him from his mother and gave Henry to work as a slave for his son. Henry eventually married and had children, who all were sold away from him. His heart ached for his loved ones but he realized he wouldn’t see them anymore. With the help of friends, including a white abolitionist, Henry decided to ship himself to freedom. He got into a box and mailed himself from Virginia to Pennsylvania. In 1849 he was free from slavery but neither he nor his mom was free to be with their children, something they longed to do. Now I’m sure if my acquaintance had her children stolen from her, her heart would ache and she would fight to get them back, but her attitude conveyed an unwillingness to care for her them in a hard place. And I imagine there are few harder places to care for children than in slavery.

Joshua, 7, has a mouth that moves more than his busy body. And Nathaniel, 2, grabs and seeks to destroy everything in his sight. And Justus, 3 months, needs me for everything. Yes, my children are a challenge, but I’m so glad I can hold them, be around to scold them and to pour into them my values most of the day. Henry didn’t have that. Neither did his mom or wife or thousands of other enslaved Africans. Henry is my hero and so are the other men and women whose families were torn apart but they didn’t fall apart completely. They kept on because they chose to. And we get tripped up over some crying, demanding children who God has granted us favor to have. They weren’t sold or swindled from us like some Haitian children whose parents believed would have a better life if they gave them over to an agency that promised that. I hope we reassess our attitude toward being with our children and are grateful for the privilege to care for them, even in the hard places.

Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith


2 responses to “Free to Love

  1. Andrina Smith

    Hi! I’m just catching up on all my mail so I had to read all your blogs back to Jan 15. Better late than never (smile)! I’ve never heard of this story. I found it very interesting and wonder how he survived without being caught. And what were his bathroom, food, water, etc. plans? Anyway we don’t appreciate the things (children, jobs, comforts etc.) that God has given us. But isn’t that human to miss it once it’s taken away or loss? Oh to be more like Christ and be thankful in everything the Lord allows in our lives.

  2. musingsofastrongblackwoman


    Henry took a little water and some biscuits. Maybe he held his waste for 24 hours, I don’t know, but he was surely brave. And you’re right about us being more Christlike and thankful. We have to challenge and then change our wrong perspectives.

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