Samuel D. Burris (1809 – December 3, 1863), was an Black American member and Conductor of the Underground Railroad.
Burris was born in Willow Grove, Delaware in 1813.
Samuel was a free black man in a time when slavery was at its peak. Burris decided to move himself and his family to the safe city of Philadelphia, but from there he made trips back and forth to the South to free other Black Americans from slavery. Burris and his partner John Hunn (June 25, 1818 – July 6, 1894), started working with the Underground Railroad system in 1845. They worked closely together helping free slaves that were escaping from Delaware and Maryland.
Burris was well aware of what he was doing and the consequences that would apply to him if he were ever caught. In the state of Delaware helping slaves escape was as a very serious offense, and if caught the mandatory punishment was that one would be sold into slavery for a period of seven years. In June 1847 Burris was caught.
He was apprehended while helping a woman by the name of Marie Mathews escape from Dover Hundred. Immediately after being captured Burris was put in Dover jail for fourteen months while he awaited his trial. He was then convicted and automatically sentenced to be auctioned off into slavery. When Burris’ friends who were active abolitionists found he was about to be sold they acted to free him.
The auction was described as follows:
When the hour arrived, the doomed man was placed on the auction-block. Two traders from Baltimore were known to be present; how many others the friends of Burris knew not. The usual opportunity was given to traders and speculators to thoroughly examine the property on the block, and most skillfully was Burris examined from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head; legs, arms and body, being handled as horse-jockeys treat horses. Flint watched the ways of the traders and followed for effect their example. The auctioneer began and soon had a bid of five hundred dollars. A Baltimore trader was now in the lead, when Flint, if we mistake not, bought off the trader for one hundred dollars. The bids were suddenly checked, and Burris was knocked down to Isaac S. Flint. But a few moments were allowed to pass ere Flint had the bill of sale for his property, and the joyful news was whispered in the ear of Burris that all was right; that he had been bought with abolition gold to save him from going south. Once more Burris found himself in Philadelphia with his wife and children and friends, a stronger opponent than ever of Slavery. Having thus escaped by the skin of his teeth, he never again ventured South.
Unknown to Burris at the time, the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society collected enough money to purchase his freedom. A member of the Society, Isaac A. Flint, attended the state auction in which Burris was to be sold. Flint posed as a slave trader and was so convincing in this role that he fooled state officials and even fooled Burris as he thoroughly examined Burris’s body and then actively bid on him. Flint managed to “win” Burris and the two promptly returned to Philadelphia.
Burris remained in Philadelphia until 1852, when he moved his family to California. Although he had stopped participating directly in the Underground Railroad after narrowly escaping from his own possible enslavement, Burris continued to support the abolition cause in his new home state. He also remained in contact with members of the Anti-Slavery Society throughout the rest of his life.
Samuel D. Burris died in San Francisco California on December 3, 1863 at the age 54.