The case of Underground Railroad conductor Samuel Burris has come full circle, this after the abolitionist will finally be pardoned, 168 years since his conviction for freeing slaves. The state of Delaware will honor Burris in a ceremony next month, clearing him of his charges posthumously in the process.
Burris was born in 1808 in the Willow Grove section of Delaware in Kent County. Although he was a free man, Burris took his family to the relative safety of Philadelphia to avoid being abducted and sold into slavery. In 1845, and with slavery dying out, Burris began working alongside abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor William Still, and Thomas Garrett.
Burris understood the risks involved in working with the Underground Railroad, which was illegal in the state. Burris was eventually caught in 1847 assisting slave Maria Mathews’ escape from a plantation in Dover. Burris was jailed and spent 14 months in jail despite the protests of his fellow abolitionists. At the end of his stay in prison, Burris was convicted and was to be auctioned into slavery.
Burris’ rights were bought for $500 by Wilmington abolitionist, Issac Flint. Flint then arranged for Burris to rejoin his family in Philadelphia. The ordeal bolstered Burris’ involvement in freeing slaves, and he continued to support the cause of helping newly freed slaves adjust to their new lives after the Civil War and the end of slavery.
There are several conflicting accounts of exactly when Burris died while living in San Francisco. The years have jumped around from 1863, 1868 and 1869.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell will host a morning ceremony to pardon Burris at the Old State House in Dover on November 2. There will also be a dedication of a historical marker honoring Burris. Several honored guests, included elected state officials, are slated to offer remarks.