Anthony Burns

A daguerreotype of Anthony Burns drawn in 1855

Courtesy: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-90750.

Born into slavery in Stafford County, Virginia, Anthony Burns (1834–1862) escaped his master, Charles F. Suttle, by boarding a ship to Boston in March 1854. Two months later, working as a free man in Boston, Burns was arrested under the provisions of the newly strengthened federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Local abolitionists rallied to his defense, and on May 26, a crowd of blacks and whites stormed the courthouse where Burns was being held for trial. While they failed to rescue Burns, and Judge Edward G. Loring ordered his rendition back to Virginia, the image of federal marshals escorting a fugitive slave to a ship in Boston Harbor radicalized many northerners. Produced by local abolitionists, this 1855 poster depicts various phases of Burns’s ordeal. Burns supporters subsequently succeeded in buying his freedom. He returned to Boston, later attended Oberlin College, moved to Canada, and worked as a nonordained Baptist minister until his death from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight.