Author: Paul Finkelman

the president of Gratz College, a scholar of slavery and the law, and the author of more than fifty books

Anthony Burns (1834–1862)

Anthony Burns was a fugitive slave from Virginia who, while living in Boston in 1854, became the principal in a famous court case brought in an effort to extradite him back to the South. Born in Stafford County, Burns was the property of the merchant Charles F. Suttle, who later hired him out to William Brent, of Falmouth. In 1854, Burns escaped slavery and traveled to Boston, where he wrote a letter back to one of his brothers. Intercepted by Suttle, the letter revealed Burns’s whereabouts, and Suttle and Brent themselves traveled to Boston and claimed Burns under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The subsequent rendition trial sparked the interest of antislavery activists, and an attempt at freeing Burns by force killed a federal marshal. Burns eventually lost his case and was sold to a man in North Carolina. Boston activists later purchased his freedom, however, and he attended school in Ohio and lectured on his experiences. He ended up in Canada, where he died in 1862 from health problems related to his post-trial confinement.