Returning to Virginia, Anthony Burns was sold by his master, Suttle, for $905 to a North Carolina slaver, cotton planter, and horse dealer. Eventually, with financial aid from Boston and the help of friends, Burns’ freedom was purchased for $1,300. Once freed, Burns returned to live in Boston. With proceeds that came from his biography, as well as a scholarship, Burns received an education at Oberlin College in Ohio. (He is in the back row, on the right.) Later he went to Ontario, Canada, and was the minister of the Zion Baptist Church.
Anthony Burns had at least one more Stafford interaction. In July of 1855 he dutifully asked the Baptist congregation of Falmouth’s Union Church for a letter of good standing in order to transfer membership to a Northern church. He was rebuked and excommunicated on October 20, 1855. The delay perhaps suggested some intra-church debate. Burns responded with another letter which must rank among the most beautiful expressions of the early civil rights movement in America:
“Thus you have excommunicated me, on the charge of ‘disobeying the laws of God and man,’ in absconding from the service of my master and refusing to return voluntarily. I admit that I left my master (so called), and refused to return; but I deny that in this I disobeyed either the law of God, or any real law of men. Look at my case. I was stolen and made a slave as soon as I was born. No man had any right to steal me. That man stealer who stole me trampled on my dearest rights. He committed an outrage on the law of God; therefore this man stealing gave him no right in me, and laid me under no obligation to be his slave. God made me a man – not a slave; and gave me the same right to myself that he gave the man who stole me to himself… You charge me that, in escaping, I disobeyed God’s law. No, indeed! That law, which God wrote on the table of my heart, inspiring the love of freedom, and impelling me to seek it at every hazard. I obeyed, and by the good hand of my God upon me, I walked out of the house of bondage.”
(A Stafford school was named in honor of Anthony Burns, the first former Stafford slave to go to college.)