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Anthony Burns

Anthony Burns was born a slave in Virginia in 1834. He escaped in Richmond in 1854, traveling by boat to Boston, where he eluded discovery for a few months. Under the provisions of the recently passed Fugitive Slave Act, authorities arrested Burns on May 24, 1854, and jailed him in the federal courthouse.

Two days later, two abolitionist meetings at Fanueil Hall and Tremont Temple developed into a gathering of more than 1,000 in front of the courthouse. Under the leadership of Thomas Wentworth Higginson and others, a group attempted to enter the building with a battering ram and free Burns. They failed in their rescue effort, but a deputy was killed during the attempt.

On June 2, Judge Edward G. Loring ordered Anthony Burnsís return to his owner under the Fugitive Slave Act. With 2,000 soldiers on guard, Burns was taken to the wharf and boarded a ship for his return to Virginia. Eventually ransomed, he returned north. He attended Oberlin College and later emigrated to Canada, where he died in 1862.

Further Reading:
Pease, Jane H. and William H. Pease. The Fugitive Slave Law and Anthony Burns: A Problem in Law Enforcement. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1975.


Chapter Three: The Abolitionist Calling

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History