Kent County Underground Railroad Conductor Pardoned - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Kent County Underground Railroad Conductor Pardoned

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Samuel Burris was convicted Nov. 2, 1847 of helping slaves escape Samuel Burris was convicted Nov. 2, 1847 of helping slaves escape

DOVER, Del. (WBOC) - Exactly 168 years to the day he was convicted, a Kent County man received a pardon Monday.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell Monday morning posthumously pardoned, Samuel Burris, a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Burris was a free black man from just south of Dover.

On Nov. 2, 1847 he was convicted of aiding and abetting runaway slaves.

That conviction happened at what's now the Old Statehouse on The Green in Dover. It was on the same exact site that Gov. Markell officially pardoned him for it.

"When you have the opportunity to correct an historic injustice, you ought to take a real serious look at doing so," said Gov. Markell. "This was a chance to right a wrong for somebody who was extraordinarily brave, who had his freedom, but wanted others to have their freedom."

"In this case he was charged with helping a young mother and daughter escape into freedom," Tim Slavin, head of the Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs, said. "He was found guilty for that by the state of Delaware. He was imprisoned... on The Green."

Burris was fined heavily and sentenced to prison and was then to be sold into slavery. That was a normal punishment at the time.

A Wilmington abolitionist bought Burris for $500. He was taken to Philadelphia and reunited with his family and friends.

Burris continued to fight for the abolitionist cause until he died in 1863 in San Francisco.

While Burris is long since dead, he has living descendants. Ralph Smith is a pastor in Dover. He was in the Old Statehouse for the pardoning.

"Very special," Smith said. "It was very special to me. It was very special to the descendants of Samuel D. Burris."

Ocea Thomas came up from Georgia for the event. Burris was her great-great-grandmother's brother.

"What it hopefully will do is spread to all of the states to go about correcting some of the things that did happen," she said.

And that's a word that kept coming up - correcting - correcting a wrong, a mistake, an injustice, even if it takes 168 years.

"A pardon matters because it makes people realize that people have not forgotten," Smith said.

"It could be 1,000 years," said Thomas. "Make it right."

The pardon also included the unveiling of a historical marker.  It is in the Willow Grove area of Kent County, where Burris was born and lived.

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