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Anthony Burns

BURNS, Anthony, fugitive slave, born in Virginia about 1830; died in St. Catharines, Canada, 27 July, 1862. He effected his escape from slavery in Virginia, and was at work in Boston in the winter of 1853-'4. On 23 May, 1854, the United States house of representatives passed the Kansas-Nebraska bill repealing the Missouri compromise, and permitting the extension of Negro slavery, which had been restricted since 1820. The news caused great indignation throughout the free states, especially in Boston, where the anti-slavery party had its headquarters. Just at this crisis Burns was arrested by United States Marshal Watson Freeman, under the provisions of the fugitive-slave act, on a warrant sworn out by Charles F. Suttle. He was confined in the Boston court-house under a strong guard, and on 25 May was taken before United States Commissioner Loring for examination. Through the efforts of Wendell Phillips and Theodore Parker, an adjournment was secured to 27 May, and in the mean time a Massachusetts-meeting was called at Faneuil hall, and the United States marshal summoned a large posse of extra deputies, who were armed and stationed in and about the court-house to guard against an expected attempt at the rescue of Burns. The meeting at Faneuil hall was addressed by the most prominent men of Boston, and could hardly be restrained from adjourning in a body to storm the court-house. While this assembly was in session, a premature attempt to rescue Burns was made under the leadership of Thomas W. Higginson. A door of the courthouse was battered in, one of the deputies was killed in the fight, and Col. Higginson and others of the assailants were wounded. A call for re-enforcements was sent to Faneuil hall, but in the confusion it never reached the chairman. On the next day the examination was held before Commissioner Loring, Richard H. Dana and Charles M. Ellis appearing for the prisoner. The evidence showed that Burns was amenable under the law, and his surrender to his master was ordered. When the decision was made known, many houses were draped in black, and the state of popular feeling was such that the government directed that the prisoner be sent to Virginia on board the revenue cutter "Norris." He was escorted to the wharf by a strong guard, through streets packed with excited crowds. At the wharf the tumult seemed about to culminate in riot, when the Rev. Daniel Foster (who was killed in action early in the civil war) exclaimed, "Let us pray!" and silence fell upon the multitude, who stood with uncovered heads, while Burns was hurried on board the cutter. A more impressively dramatic ending, or one more characteristic of an excited but law-abiding and God-fearing New England community, could hardly be conceived for this famous case. Burns afterward studied at Oberlin College, and eventually became a Baptist minister, and settled in Canada, where, during the closing years of his life, he presided over a congregation of his own color. See "Anthony Burns, A History," by C. E. Stevens (Boston, 1854).

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