Manuscript Processor and EAD Coordinator
The second of June was the day set for Burns' return to the South. On that day, an estimated 50,000 people gathered in Court Square and along State Street between the courthouse and Boston Harbor to protest his extradition. A phalanx of U.S. marshals, soldiers, and marines, reinforced by Massachusetts militia, and 200 volunteers, who were described by Mary Seaver as "all the worst blacklegs and pimps of the city," escorted the recaptured slave from the courthouse to T Wharf, approximately half a mile away, where a boat waited to carry him out to a U.S. revenue cutter in the harbor that would take him back to Virginia. Burns' defense attorney, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., called it a "vile procession." As Burns passed, the crowds lining the streets booed, hissed, and shouted in protest. Businesses along State Street closed for the day, and buildings were draped with black fabric. One group of protestors inscribed a large black coffin with the word "Liberty," and another flew the American flag upside down.
The spectacle of Anthony Burns' rendition made a deep and lasting impression on all who witnessed it. Other men and women in Boston that day wrote similar accounts and described feelings of anger, disgust, and sadness. Horace Howard Furness, a 20-year-old Harvard student, watched with an "excited state of mind" from the Commonwealth Building on the corner of State and Washington Streets, near the Old State House. Also observing from the Commonwealth Building was Martha Russell, who asked: "Did you ever feel every drop of blood in you boiling and seething, throbbing and burning, until it seemed you should suffocate?" As Mary wrote to her father: "I do not know the time when there has been so much excitement, almost all are unanimous in feelings of indignation, and mortification, and humiliation."
Mary Blanchard believed that the week of the Anthony Burns trial would "long be remembered as a sad one by the citizens of Boston." However, the case resuscitated abolitionist sentiment in the North and spurred efforts to repeal the Fugitive Slave Act. As Mary's brother Frank explained in a letter from the same collection: "The fact is Massachusetts was stirred to its very heart's core & there is the most wonderful change in public sentiment on the subject of slavery there, & everywhere at the North."
Less than a year after the trial, a group of northern abolitionists purchased Anthony Burns' freedom for $1,300, and he returned to Boston as a free man. See an online presentation of the checks used to purchase his freedom. The same year, the rising political power of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts would lead to the enactment of state personal liberty law that made it all-but impossible to enforce the federal Fugitive Slave Act in the Commonwealth, and after several attempts by the now firmly-antislavery legislature, Edward Loring was removed from his Massachusetts judgeship in 1858.
Adams, Charles Francis. Richard Henry Dana: A Biography. Vol. 1. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1890.
The Boston Slave Riot, and Trial of Anthony Burns. Boston: Fetridge and Co., 1854.
Furness, Horace Howard. The Letters of Horace Howard Furness. Ed. Horace Howard Furness Jayne. Vol. 1. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1922.
The Ruffin Society. "Slavery and the 'Trial' of Anthony Burns." Long Road to Justice: The African American Experience in the Massachusetts Courts. (Website currently hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society.)
Stevens, Charles Emery. Anthony Burns: A History. Boston: John P. Jewett and Co., 1856.
"The Trial of Anthony Burns for Escaping from Slavery, Boston, Massachusetts, 1854." American State Trials. Ed. John D. Lawson. Vol. 5. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1972. 645-709.
Von Frank, Albert J. The Trials of Anthony Burns: Freedom and Slavery in Emerson's Boston. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.