Samuel Burris, a free Black man born in Delaware in 1808, helped slaves escape by way of the Underground Railroad during the first half of the 19th century. Burris was convicted and sold into slavery and now, nearly 150 years after his death, the governor of Delaware has decided to pardon him.
“This pardon will serve as an opportunity to right a historic injustice towards a man who was steadfast in his courage while facing grave danger. I appreciate the work of the Burris family and others in bringing this to our attention,” Gov. Jack Markell said in a statement.
On Tuesday, the governor’s office reached out to Burris’ living descendants to let them know he would be forgiven for the inhumane laws he had courageously broken.
“I stood there and cried. It was pride. It was relief. I guess, justification. All of that,” Ocea Thomas told ABC News. Thomas’ great-great-grandmother was Burris’ sister.
According to the State of Delaware’s Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, Burris was born in Kent County as a free man. He moved to Philadelphia with his family and became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, the illicit system of routes and individuals instrumental in helping slaves migrate north to freedom during the 19th century.
Burris was caught helping a runaway slave in 1847 and a Delaware court sentenced him to be sold into slavery for seven years. At his auction, an anti-slavery society bought him and set him free.
The Delaware state constitution gives the governor the power to grant pardons, pending approval from an official board. That board approved Burris’ case in late August, the governor’s office said.
Burris’ long overdue pardon will take place on November 2, the anniversary of his conviction.