150th Anniversary of Anthony Burns Fugitive Slave Case

4/24/2004

BOSTON, MA – On May 24, 1854, United States Marshals seized Anthony Burns, two months after he escaped from a Virginia slave owner. The 20-year-old Burns spent eight days in a cell at the federal courthouse while abolitionists struggled unsuccessfully to keep the government from returning him to slavery. As he was led to the ship that would carry him back to Virginia, 50,000 people—more than a third of Boston’s population at the time—lined the streets to protest his fate.

June 2, 2004 marks the 150th anniversary of Burns’s return to slavery, which took 2,000 soldiers at a cost of $40,000. That day every street along Burns’s route to the ship on T Wharf was draped in black, and flags hung upside-down. A huge coffin labeled Liberty was suspended across State Street.

Burns was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act, a federal law that allowed slave owners to file claims for fugitive slaves, even in “free states” like Massachusetts. Burns’s trial outraged many Bostonians and galvanized support for the abolitionist movement.

Burns’s story is captured in an exhibit, The Price of Freedom: Anthony Burns and the Fugitive Slave Act, currently on display at Suffolk University’s Adams Gallery. Through artifacts, graphics and text, the exhibit explores the story of Burns’s arrest and trial in Boston 150 years ago. The exhibit includes the handcuffs that were used on Burns during his return to slavery.

The Price of Freedom runs through June 3, 2004, at the Adams Gallery, Suffolk University Law School, 120 Tremont Street, Boston. Gallery hours are 10 am - 6 pm daily. For more information, contact: 617-573-8508, or see The Adams Gallery web site.

The Price of Freedom: Anthony Burns and the Fugitive Slave Act

Organized by Discovering Justice: The James D. St.Clair Court Education Project, a non-profit civic education organization, and the Bostonian Society, Boston’s city history museum.

This project was funded in part by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.

Suffolk University’s Adams Gallery, 120 Tremont Street, Boston, presents exhibits on historical themes. The gallery’s windows look out onto Tremont Street and the Freedom Trail in the historic heart of Boston, making it a natural site for exhibits of original materials or reproductions of importance in the chronology of Boston and New England. The university also presents lectures and discussions related to the exhibits.

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