A Delawarean that made a Difference!

                                    ( October 14, 1808 - December 3, 1863 )

      As with many others associated with the Underground Railroad, the life of " Samuel D. Burris " still holds many mysteries.

      " Samuel Burris " was born in Willow Grove, Kent County, Delaware on October 14, 1808 as a free black man.

      " Burris " married " Catharine Burris ", while still in Delaware, and they had six children together: James Burris, " George R. Burris ", Mary Burris, " Sarah Jane Burris Epps ", Eliza Burris Barratt, and Samuel Burris.   He later moved his family to the relative safety of Philadelphia.   It is from Philadelphia that he would make his trips into the South to free other African Americans from slavery.

      " Burris " began his service as a " Conductor " on the Underground Railroad by 1845.   He worked closely with " Chief Engineer " ~ " John Hunn ", also from Delaware, to assist slaves escaping from Delaware and neighboring Maryland.   Burris also worked closely with " William Still ", an African American " Station Master " in the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia.

      " Burris " knew the risks associated with Underground Railroad and was willing to take them.   On one occasion he was noted as saying:

" Helping slaves to regain freedom ..... in the state of Delaware is a crime next to that of murder, if committed by a colored man. "

      The punishment for an African American caught aiding slaves was severe.   " Burris " could be sold into slavery for a period of seven years.

      In June 1847 his fears became a reality.   He was captured in the act of assisting Maria Mathews, an escaping slave from Dover Hundred.   " Burris " was thrown into Dover jail for ten to fourteen months before his trial.

      At his trial he was convicted and sentenced to be auctioned into slavery.

      Unknown to " Burris ", members of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society plotted to free their friend.   Isaac A. Flint, a member of the society, attended the auction posing as a slave trader.   When " Burris " took his place on the auction block Flint examined him just as he had seen the other slave traders do.

      Flint performed perfectly, convincing even " Burris " that he was being sold into slavery.   However he saved " Burris " from the horror of slavery by outbidding the other traders.   The bill of sale completed, Isaac Flint and " Samuel Burris " made a speedy return to Philadelphia.

      " Burris " never again returned to Delaware, remaining in Philadelphia until 1851 when he and his family moved to California.   He kept in contact with the Underground Railroad through William Still.   While in California " Burris " worked through black churches to raise money to aid free blacks.

      " Samuel D. Burris " died in San Francisco on December 3, 1863 at the age of 50 and was interred in the Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, California.

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" Samuel D. Burris' "
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Russ Pickett
Last update: December, 2023