The Arrest











History 312: Civil War and Reconstruction Student Web Sites



Having done a few other short term jobs previously while in Boston, on May 24, 1854, Anthony Burns had been working in a clothing store. The store was located on Brattle Street and belonged to the black trader, Coffin Pitts. Upon leaving the store for the evening, Burns was followed and arrested by Asa O. Butman. Burns was told he was being arrested for breaking into and robbing a jewelry store (Stevens 15-17). Burns, knowing he was innocent, went unresistingly with the men to the Court House, feeling he could easily prove his innocence. Although offering no resistance, Burns was surrounded by six or seven men who "took him in their arms horizontally as they would a dead person," and carried him to the Court House (Stevens 17).

At the Court House, Burns realized in reality he had been arrested for being a fugitive slave. Butman knew if he revealed to Burns the real reason for his arrest, Burns might have tried to escape. Shortly after arriving in Boston, Burns had sent a letter to his brother, who was also a slave for Mr. Suttle. Although the letter was sent through Canada, it was still intercepted by Mr. Suttle (Anthony Burns Captured). Mr. Suttle was now at the Boston Court House, where Burns had been taken, to reclaim his slave. Due to the passage of the new Fugitive Slave Law as part of the Compromise of 1850, Suttle did at least have the law to support to him. The Fugitive Slave Law "empowered commissioners . . . to issue certificates entitling claimant of fugitive slaves to take their property back to the state or territory from which the slaves fled, provided only that satisfactory proof was presented . . . that the prisoners were the fugitives as alleged and did owe service" (Pease 11). Therefore, Burns who had considered himself free just a few hours before, was now being threatened of being sent back into slavery. He sat in a room on the third floor of the Court House, awaiting a trial that would determine if he were in fact the fugitive, Anthony Burns, who owed service to Mr. Charles Suttle.


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This page was last updated on 02/02/00