Anthony Burns (31 May 1834 – 17 July 1862) was born a slave in Stafford County, Virginia. As a young man, he converted to Baptism and became a "slave preacher". 1850 would prove a vital year in Burns' life because of the passage of the new Fugitive Slave Law that said that all slaves must be returned to their master regardless of where they were discovered, a major setback to abolitionists' efforts to emancipate all slaves. Vigilante groups with members of both races sprang up in retaliation, attacking convoys leading fugitive slaves back into bondage in the Deep South where the hopes of escape were slim. This law would later cause Burns great troubles when he became a fugitive himself.
Read excerpts from The trials of Anthony Burns: freedom and slavery in Emerson's Boston, by Albert J. Von Frank, free from Google books. Flight from slavery and eventual capture
Anthony Burns fled from Richmond by ship to Boston in 1853. On May 24, 1854 he was discovered and arrested. Boston, being a hub of resistance toward the "slave power" of the south, reacted by attempting to free Burns. This was the perfect excuse for President Franklin Pierce to make an example of the force he was willing to employ in order to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. This show of force ended up turning many New Englanders who heretofore had passively accepted slavery decisively against it.
On May 26, before his trial, a mob of angry abolitionists that included Thomas Wentworth Higginson and other Bostonians outraged at Burns' arrest, stormed the court house with the intention of freeing him. In the attack on the court house a Deputy U.S. Marshal, James Batchelder, was stabbed and became the second U.S. Marshal to be killed in the line of duty. Burns remained under the control of the police. A further mass influx of US troops and anti-slavery activists entered Boston to continue the faceoff. It has been estimated the cost of capturing Burns was upwards of $40,000.
Trial and aftermath
Burns's trial was a formality as the decision was all but predetermined before Burns even set foot in the courthouse. Richard Henry Dana, Jr., his attorney, along with African American associate and fellow lawyer Robert Morris, did all they could in his behalf but to no avail. Effectively under martial law for the afternoon, the streets of Boston between the courthouse and the harbor were lined with federal troops holding back the waves of protesters as Burns was escorted to the ship that would return him to his original master.
Unfortunately for President Pierce and his pro-slavery constituents, the matter was not put to rest as Burns was escorted south. Some of the reactions included: the formation of an Anti-Man Hunting League in Massachusetts; William Lloyd Garrison burning copies of the Fugitive Slave Law, the Burns court decision, and the Constitution of the United States; and, as a result of the efforts of the Vigilance Committee, the eventual removal in 1858 of Edward G. Loring, the judge who tried Burns, from office. In a broader sense the Burns case fueled anti-slavery sentiments all across the North.
Freedom and later life
The abolitionist community in Boston raised $1,200 in order to try to ransom Burns' freedom from his master, Charles F. Suttle, but Suttle refused to deal with anyone seeking Burns's emancipation. After Burns was forced back to Virginia, Suttle sold him for $905 to David McDaniel, a slaver, cotton planter, and horse-dealer from Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Leonard A. Grimes eventually managed to ransom Burns's freedom from McDaniel, with financial aid from Boston, for $1,300. Burns, once freed, returned to live in Boston.
With proceeds that came from his biography, combined with a scholarship, he received an education at Oberlin College. After briefly preaching in Indianapolis, Burns emigrated to Upper Canada to accept a call from a Baptist church in that colony. He served as a non-ordained minister until his early death from tuberculosis at the age of 28 in St. Catharines on July 17, 1862.