Performers at the Edinburgh festival Fringe have discovered they are following in the footsteps of Henry Box Brown – a hero of the drive to abolish slavery in America – after receiving a report of a show he put on in Fife 150 years ago.
The fugitive African American slave, whose story the New York gospel singers celebrate, actually came to Kirkcaldy in 1852.
Henry Box Brown earned international fame for his daring escape to freedom concealed in a small wooden box – but then had to cross the Atlantic to Britain to avoid being hunted down.
The Fife Herald of August 19, 1852 carried a report which told how he appeared at the Rose Street Chapel, Kirkcaldy, and “gave a very thrilling account of the manner in which he escaped from the galling bondage of slavery.’’
Brown was packed as luggage in a box, three feet one inch long, just two feet six inches deep, and two feet wide, and sent by steam-boat and train all the way from Richmond to Philadelphia.
The 300-mile journey saw him confined in the box for 27 hours confined in the box where he was almost bruised and suffocated to death.”
Intriguingly he also prefigured the new musical with his own Fringe-type show when he “exhibited the identical box in which he made his escape, and went into it, and showed his audience the way in which he was packed into it. He also sang several excellent melodies, one of which has been composed by himself, giving a short sketch of his wonderful escape.”
Mehr Mansuri, who wrote the musical, said: “It was a wonderful to discover that Henry had been to Scotland more than 165 years ago and that we are following in his footsteps, literally and artistically, by bringing his story back here again after so long.
“He was such a remarkable man, someone who proved that the human spirit can transcend almost any obstacle. And in a time as troubled as our own there is a much-needed message of optimism in there, that change can come, evils can be overcome and the world can be made a better place.”
Henry Box Brown: A Musical Journey, is at Assembly Rooms, Music Hall until August 26.
It is performed by some of the cream of New York Gospel singers and off Broadway actors.
>> Henry Box Brown was born into slavery in Louisa County,and worked in a Richmond tobacco factory.
In 1848 his children and pregnant wife were sold to new owners in North Carolina, and Brown resolved to escape slavery and enlisted the help of a white churchman and a slave-owning gambler.
In later life he became a prominent abolitionist, a performer, musician and a published author.
About the musical