Burns was born a slave in Stafford County on May 31, 1834. He was the thirteenth and last child of the family cook of John F. Suttle and of her third husband, who supervised other slaves working in a stone quarry. After Suttle and his wife died, Burns became the property of their eldest son, Charles F. Suttle, a merchant who eventually moved to Alexandria. Burns remained with his mother in Stafford County and learned to read and write. He joined the Baptist Church and may have preached, which would have been a violation of Virginia law. As an adult Burns was about six feet tall with a dark complexion and scars on his cheek and right hand.
The United States marshal kept Burns incommunicado after his seizure and early the next morning carried him before a United States commissioner who expected to hear evidence from Suttle and Brent and promptly sign the necessary papers to turn Burns over to them. Richard Henry Dana Jr., a prominent antislavery attorney, passed the courtroom at that time, however, and saw what was happening. He intervened on Burns's behalf, even though Burns initially rejected this offer of legal counsel because he believed that his return to Virginia in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act was inevitable and that at this juncture it would be better for him if things went smoothly for Suttle. Arguments by abolitionists of both races soon convinced Burns to accept Dana's assistance.
May 31, 1834 - Anthony Burns is born in Stafford County the thirteenth and last child of two enslaved parents. His mother is the family cook of John F. Suttle.
1852 - Charles F. Suttle directs William Brent, of Falmouth, to hire the slave Anthony Burns out in Richmond.
February–March 1854 - Around this time, the slave Anthony Burns secretly travels from Richmond to Boston with the assistance of friends and mariners from the North whom he met in Richmond.
May 24, 1854 - Anthony Burns, a runaway slave from Stafford County, is arrested in Boston under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850).
Spring 1855 - A group of African Americans in Boston, Massachusetts, acting through their Baptist minister, Leonard Grimes (a black man born free in Virginia), purchases Anthony Burns's freedom for $1,300.
August 1858 - Anthony Burns is in Maine preparing to present a panorama entitled the Grand Moving Mirror exhibiting the horrors of slavery.
1860 - Anthony Burns takes a position at a Baptist church in Indianapolis, but shortly thereafter moves to the Zion Baptist Church in Saint Catharines, Upper Canada (later Ontario).
July 27, 1862 - Anthony Burns dies of consumption in Saint Catharines, Upper Canada (later Ontario), never having regained his health after being incarcerated for running away to Boston in 1854.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Finkelman, P., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Anthony Burns (1834–1862). (2015, June 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Burns_Anthony_1834-1862.
- MLA Citation:
Finkelman, Paul and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Anthony Burns (1834–1862)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Jun. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: November 15, 2011 | Last modified: June 23, 2015
Contributed by Paul Finkelman and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Paul Finkelman is a professor at Albany Law School.