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The Trial of Anthony Burns

March 1854
Anthony Burns (1834–1866) escapes from slavery in Virginia, makes his way to Boston and finds a job in a clothing store operated by the abolitionist Lewis Hayden.

May 24, 1854
While on his way home from work, Burns is seized by his owner under the authority of the Fugitive Slave Law.

May 26, 1854
Black and white abolitionists, led by Lewis Hayden and Worcester clergyman Thomas Wentworth Higginson, join forces to storm the courthouse in an attempt to free Burns. By the time order is restored, thirteen people have been arrested and one marshall has been killed.

May 27, 1854
Boston is overflowing with federal troops and abolitionists. Burns goes to court, represented by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. and the African American attorney Robert Morris. U.S. Commissioner Edward G. Loring rules in favor of Burns' master.

June 2, 1854
Federal troops escort Burns to a ship to return to Virginia. Every street along the route is draped in black and flags hang upside-down. A huge coffin labeled Liberty is suspended across State Street. With 2,000 soldiers and Marines and, at a cost of $40,000, Anthony Burns was returned to slavery.

February 22, 1855
Reverend Leonard A. Grimes of Boston’s Twelfth Baptist Church led efforts to raise money for the purchase of Anthony Burns’ freedom. Acting through intermediaries, Grimes purchases Burns, who then returns to Massachusetts a free man.

Burns later studied at Oberlin College in Ohio, and became a minister in Canada.

Check for the purchase of Anthony Burns
Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society




anthony burns
larger view
The Rendition of Anthony Burns
Courtesy Library of Congress, Department of Prints and Photographs

handwritten letter
read an excerpt

Handwritten letter from Anthony Burns to Richard Henry Dana, Jr., in which Burns implores his Massachusetts supporters to buy his freedom.
Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society

Reverend Leonard A. Grimes
From William J. Simmons, Men of Mark (1887)