Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive Slave Summary

Virginia Hamilton


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Virginia Hamilton's portrayal of a man on trial for escaping slavery is an engrossing, tension-filled story, made especially powerful by the fact that it is true. Anthony Burns was captured, tried, and sent back into a slavery worse than that from which he had originally escaped. He was eventually freed, but the trial and Burns's ordeal are the focus of this book. Because Hamilton presents the atrocities of Burns's childhood and later life with little editorial comment, readers can judge the everyday realities of slavery for themselves.

The book's significance lies partially in its portrayal of Burns the man as opposed to Burns the famous slave. Although the Anthony Burns case has great historical and legal significance, its chroniclers have tended to overlook Burns himself—the man who struggled and endured—and have focused instead on politics, slavery, abolitionists, legal issues, and on the famous names connected with the case. Hamilton details the trial but also gives readers important glimpses into the mind and soul of a "courageous and humane, gentle man," as she describes Burns in her Boston Globe-Horn Book Award acceptance speech for this book.

Hamilton's book reveals an underside of American history that is often glossed over in classrooms. The book demonstrates the injustice of congressional pro-slavery laws with its account of the Fugitive Slave Act, and clearly depicts President Franklin Pierce's aggressive pro-slavery...

(The entire section is 275 words.)