Pardon For Free Black Convicted of Helping Slaves Escape

Oct 21, 2015

Samuel Burris
Credit 19th century sketch

A free black man convicted of helping slaves escape to freedom in the 19th century is to be posthumously pardoned by Delaware's governor.

Ocea Thomas of Atlanta said in a telephone interview Tuesday that she received a phone call this weekend letting her know that Gov. Jack Markell would pardon Samuel Burris, a free black man and conductor on the Underground Railroad who died in the 1860s and is one of Thomas' ancestors.

Phone and email messages left Tuesday for Markell's spokeswoman, Kelly Bachman, weren't immediately returned.

In 1847, Burris was caught helping a slave try to escape Delaware and sent to jail. He was tried and found guilty of enticing slaves to escape from their masters. Part of his sentence was that he be sold into slavery for seven years, but a Pennsylvania anti-slavery society raised money to purchase him and set him free.