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Thu, 11.18.1813

Samuel Burris, Abolitionist born

Samuel D. Burris

*The birth of Samuel Burris in 1813 is remembered on this date. He was a Black abolitionist.

Samuel D. Burris was born in Willow Grove, Delaware, a free black man when American slavery peaked.  Burris and his family moved to Philadelphia, where he traveled back and forth to the South to free other Blacks from slavery.  With an abolitionist partner, John Hunn, they began working with the Underground Railroad system in 1845.  They helped free slaves who were escaping from Delaware and Maryland.  Burris knew what he was doing and the consequences that would apply to him if he were ever caught. In the state of Delaware, if caught freeing slaves, the mandatory punishment was that one would be sold into slavery for seven years.

In June 1847, Burris was caught helping a woman named Marie Mathews escape from Dover Hundred. Burris was put in Dover jail for fourteen months while he awaited his trial. He was convicted on November 2, 1847, and sentenced to slavery through auction. When his friends and allies found he was about to be sold, Isaac Flint posed as a slave buyer, bought Burris, and set him free. After the rescue, they left Delaware, never returning. Burris died in San Francisco, California, on December 3, 1863.

One hundred sixty-eight years later, Samuel Burris was pardoned posthumously on November 2, 2015.  Several of Mr. Burris’s descendants attended the ceremony. One of them, Ocea Thomas, read from a letter Samuel Burris had sent his brother from prison in 1848. “You will recollect that the slave trader is only doing a lawful business, encouraged and protected by the laws of the state of Delaware,” he wrote. “Yet I cannot forbear taking all opportunities to express great abhorrence of servitude and my passion for liberty upon any terms whatsoever.”

Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware posthumously pardoned the man he called “a hero.” “He was not content simply to secure his own freedom,”  Markell said at a ceremony Monday inside the Old State House in Dover, the same building where Mr. Burris was convicted. “He risked his life to ensure others would be free as well.” The pardon called his conviction a “historic wrong that a single stroke of a pen cannot correct, but it recognizes Samuel D. Burris’ acts not as criminal acts, but as acts of freedom and bravery in the face of injustice.”

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