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"In 1854, Anthony Burns, a 20-year-old black man, was put on trial in Boston
under the ...
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"In 1854, Anthony Burns, a 20-year-old black man, was put on trial in Boston
under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Retelling the events of the trial, which
polarized the city, Hamilton shows the kind of political issue which brought
the nation to fever pitch in the decade before the Civil War. Hamilton's
biography is actually a 'docudrama' which centers on the often silent,
mistreated, and humbled runaway slave. The insights Hamilton gives into the
personal side of slavery are moving and unforgettable."—(starred) School
Library Journal. "Does exactly what good biography for children ought to
do: makes them feel what it was like to be that person in those
times."—(starred) Horn Book.
A biography of the slave who escaped to Boston in 1854, was arrested at the instigation of his owner, and whose trial caused a furor between abolitionists and those determined to enforce the Fugitive Slave Acts.
"Beautifully written . . . a riveting reality tale whose legacy, even now, is not finished." — The New York Times Book Review
May 24, 1854
"HOLD ON, BOY!" A harsh voice called to him from the dim light on Brattle Street.
He held himself in and managed to sound calm when he asked, "What do you want of me?"
"They say a boy broke into the jewelry store," the man said, and walked nearer. "About twenty hours ago it was that a boy took a valuable piece of silver. And you look like the same boy."
"I never stole in my life!" he exclaimed. He knew he couldn't have been the one. He was no boy. But something inside him cautioned, Steal away to Jesus! "I haven't ever stole," he said evenly.
"Let's just see about it, m'boy," the man said. "Let's just walk down to the Court House."
He panicked and started to run. Men came out of the shadows to surround him. He bolted, but they caught him and lifted him off his feet. They carried him like a corpse at the height of their shoulders. He did next what he knew how to do: He closed his eyes and went far inside himself. Gripped tightly by these strangers up on their shoulders, he stayed stiffly in their hands.
There seemed to be a leader and maybe six others. He thought, They are like pallbearers—am I a dead man? They've caught me, but I'm not a thief. They say I stole. I know I have stole nothing in my life!
He was innocent. That was why he had resisted and run. He'd been on the corner of Brattle and Court Streets, coming from his work at Mr. Pitts' clothing store. In view was Faneuil Hall, the old market building. It had been built with money earned from selling West Indian slaves. Now it was used by Christian abolitionists who in the present year, 1854, prayed and preached against slavery. So he had been told by his employer and friend, the freeman Coffin Pitts.
The men who had caught him continued to carry him on their shoulders to Boston Court Square and the Court House.
They've mixed me up with some poor soul, he was thinking. It's all a mistake. Keep yourself quiet, make no resistance, he told himself. He didn't move a muscle.
Breathing heavily, perspiring, the men took a moment's rest when they arrived at the Court House. Once inside, they stood him on his feet. He opened his eyes and looked at them hard just for a moment. They looked rough to him, like the lowest types; so did the leader.
They lifted him up again and carried him to a jury room on the third floor. There, with some relief, they set him down again.
He brushed and straightened his clothing to proper order and looked around for the jewelry store owner; instead, he saw the door closing, shutting him in. There were iron bars set in the door. The windows, too, had iron bars over them. And the men who had carried him now stood silently to either side of the barred door.
Suddenly he felt like a caged animal. Fear chilled his neck. What was this all about? But he kept his expression aloof. He'd show them he wasn't afraid.
Never let a buckra—never let a man who is white—know what you are thinking.
This was the axiom that he and all of his kind had learned to live by.
The barred door of the room swung open suddenly. The men came smartly to attention, their hands resting lightly on the guns in their belts.
Men with guns. How came so many buckras upon him? Now entered three more. One was a stranger to him. But the other two he recognized at once. The sight of them shocked him, stunned him, and made his heart thud violently.
"Go in, go in," he told himself. "Go inside where they will not follow. Go! The Lord and his light alone can reach you."
Charles F. Suttle of Virginia entered the jury room with his agent, William Brent. He came over to the prisoner, Anthony Burns. Mockingly, Colonel Suttle bowed low to him. "How do you do, Mistah Burns!" he said. "Why did you run away from me! Haven't I always treated you well?" His north-country-Virginia accent was as thick and sweet as molasses.
Anthony Burns heard the Colonel's words from a great distance. His spirit drew away, as water will seep into the ground and disappear. Buried memories rose from Anthony Burns's depths as he heard Mars Charles Suttle's voice. Mars Charles Suttle was the only son of he Mars John Suttle, who had owned Anthony as a boy. Mars Charles Suttle had inherited Anthony from Missy Suttle.
"I I fell asleep on board of the vessel where I worked," Anthony murmured finally, "and before I woke up she set sail and carried me off."
Colonel Suttle and Brent watched Anthony closely. They saw his eyes cloud and grow dim and his mouth draw down in despair. He was going within himself, to a place where no one could reach him, least of all Mars Charles.
Seeing this, Charles Suttle snickered, "Don't run away from me, Tony. He will do that, you know, Marshal Freeman," he told the man with the sword, "just like he's addle-brained." He turned again to Anthony. "Tony, haven't I always given you money when you needed it?"
Mars Suttle's distant voice made Anthony feel like a helpless child. And like a child, he responded, "You have always given me twelve and a half cents at Christmas—once a year!"
Mars Suttle smiled, and Anthony knew he had admitted too much. But what did it matter now? He was all alone. And he went far away within, as far back as the first memories he had of knowing what it meant to be Anthony Burns and somebody else's property.
"Well, now, that's the one, is it?" asked Marshal Freeman—a thin man whose face was pitted with smallpox scars. He was the United States Marshal, and the armed guards around Anthony had been hired by him.
"Yes, suh, it's my property, certainly," Colonel Suttle answered proudly. Then, without another glance at Anthony, he walked out of the jury room, followed by the Marshal and Brent.
Anthony was not aware Suttle had gone anywhere, for he had left first and gone deep inside himself, to his childhood. There days seemed endless, perfect. There mornings and waking up were the times he could hardly wait for, he loved them soCHAPTER 2
HE AWAKENED WITH his raggedy self curled upon the dirt floor. Around him were his sister's children, deep asleep. He was smaller than the others at the age of five, but he had the children in his charge from dusk to dawn. His sister had told him so.
"Anthony," she had said, "you will get them up and you will put them to bed."
"I makin' 'em resters," he told his sister. But the children didn't want his pillow resters. On lying down they shunned all contact with him. They despised him because he never had to work hard. Every sundown they came home exhausted. They cradled their heads on thin arms and fell asleep at once, too tired to want anything. More often than not they cried fretfully in their sleep throughout the night.
"Shhh. Shhhh," Anthony would soothe them.
And he would wake the children very early so they could go to labor. They never wanted to go, and they talked back to him about it. He didn't have to go, himself. He took care of his sister's baby, and he was happy doing that. He didn't mind a babe at all. Often he would carry her upon his shoulder as he loped about the place. Or rock her cradle with his bare toes.
His mamaw was no longer close by. She had her own cabin farther along, where she bred her own babies just as his sister did. He wasn't allowed to go there often, and he did not dwell on the fact that he was left without Mamaw. He had about ten or eleven other brothers and sisters scattered all over the place. They were older, as was his sister. He lived away with the younger children, his cousins, alone in a cabin.
Anthony looked quickly around the cabin now. He saw the children, like heaps of rags. Their spindly legs, ashy and caked with dirt, were drawn up close. He had his own pillow that he hugged under him, and it was the best one he'd ever made. He'd used bunches of sweet grasses and bark, and something of his that was secret. All of it wrapped in a rag and tied with twine. An old mamaw he'd followed home one day had showed him how to start his pillow rester.
Now he lifted his head higher and looked out the door. Misty out, still not quite dayclean, the best time. He called the white dew on the ground summer snow.
No Big Walker, he thought. No overdoer come get the chil'ren yet.
All the children older than he had to be up at dawn. Anthony didn't have to, but he liked to be, else he would miss the most important time of his day. Each predawn that woke him with its first light made him feel he had awakened to life.
And here was the day, riding swiftly yellow, brightly racing over the fields. It made him giggle to see it coming. He whispered loudly to the children on the cabin floor. "Wake up! Jim and Janety!" He was copying he Mars's way of naming them. These were not their real names. If they were boys, he Mars John Suttle, the boss man, called them Jim. If they were girls, he Mars called them Janety. The children knew which one he was calling by the one he Mars looked hard at. They watched his darting eyes, and they would know when to step up or jump aside. Anthony alone was spared this. He had been named by he Mars himself.
Behind the sunlight came the overdoer, Big Walker, called Driver by those who hated him most.
"Up, Jim and Janety!" Anthony called louder to the children. "Big Walker comin' after y'all."
They didn't argue. Still half asleep, they scrambled to their feet.
Big Walker was there among the cabins, crashing his fist against the doors and walls. He yelled loudly, and there was no playing with that voice: "Up and up and up! I say it's u-u-up time! You get up now. Bein' time to move! U-u-up ti-iiime!" He was the one who watched them and did good for them and bad to them if need be in the fields.
They got up, slipping out, hurrying every which way, trying not to get in the way of grown folks as they went. Cornbread was thrust into their hands. "Here's your Johnny Constant," old Jim, the food handler, would say, putting the cornbread into their hands as they hurried by.
The children kept their heads bowed, which was the way. They would eat the Johnny Constant along the paths to the fields. Maybe they'd get something more in a few hours. Perhaps some Billy Seldom, which was what they called the buttermilk biscuits that they loved, and something to drink. But now they had to go and eat Johnny as fast as they could.
All went, except for Anthony. His older sister came, holding her babe. She was dressed in Mistress's silken dressing gown that had been given over for her serving meals. "Bow down, Anthony," she murmured to him. "He comin'."
She bowed her head and held the baby close. Anthony became excited when he heard horse's hooves. "First come the mornin'," eagerly he told her, "then come Big Walker. Now come he Mars!"
"Hush, Anthony!" Sister Janety had no time to tell him again to bow down. Mars John Suttle's pony was upon them.
"Mornin' suh," his sister said respectfully to the boss man on the horse. It was the owner of the fields himself.
"Mo'nin, Janety," he Mars said in his thick voice. "How you by this mo'nin?"
"Good Mornin' all oveh," she murmured. She had spoken softly to her chest, for her head was way bowed down. He Mars liked that. And she fell to her knees right there on the hard ground with the babe held lightly to her.
Anthony jumped up and down, beside himself with happiness. He saw he Mars look sharply beyond him. And before he could turn, he was lifted in hands like shovels. Anthony knew the hands, the muscled, huge arms.
Big Walker held him up and turned him around. Anthony was still smiling when Big Walker slapped him across his mouth. "Wipe that grin off—I say wipe it. And bow you head the way you s'pose to," he told Anthony. Then Walker turned back around toward he Mars.
"You got too much spirit, I believe, boy," he Mars Suttle told Anthony. "You see me a- comin', you bow you down like Janety there. Now bow down!"
Holding Anthony between his hands, Big Walker bowed himself and Anthony, too, from the waist. Anthony's feet were up off the ground, but still he bowed. He stayed bowed until Big Walker unbowed him. Until he Mars said it was all right for Big Walker to stand up and lift Anthony to the pony's neck.
That was where Anthony wanted to go. He would've gone, too, right away if only he hadn't forgot the rule and been slapped for it by the driver.
He Mars took Anthony out of Walker's arms and placed him comfortably on the front of the saddle.
As he was lifted, Anthony remembered not to look directly into he Mars John Suttle's face. For he Mars considered that worse than forgetting to bow. Anthony knew what he Mars looked like, anyhow. An elder man, so Mamaw said. He Mars's hair was almost gone from his head. And what was there was all white. The hair above his lip was white, too, and yellowish, and usually full of shortnin' johnnycake crumbs. Anthony knew what the crumbs were because Mamaw labored in the Suttle kitchen. She always put her shortnin' johnny to rise on a long board leaned by the fire hearth. She made the johnnycakes. Anytime Anthony wanted a piece, he ran up there and got it.
Everybody said Anthony was "spoilt." Even Missy Suttle said so, crossly. He guessed "spoilt" was good, for everybody smiled when they said that he was, except for Missy.
Sometimes, in a secret between him and Mamaw, he took a whole cake back to the cabin and the children. They weren't so jealous then that he was spoilt. They patiently waited for him to scoop up a handful for each of them.
He Mars slapped him lightly on his bare knees below the simple cotton sacking he wore. It was not lost on Anthony which one treated him more harshly—Big Walker or he Mars. And to himself he thanked he Mars for being there, else Big Walker might've hurt him more.
"There, you see?" Mars Suttle said to Walker. "The best management of my property is the keepin' of good discipline."
"Yay suh," Big Walker murmured.
"I say what?" he Mars asked.
"Good man'gement, good dis'pline," Big Walker said.
"There you have it," he Mars said. "You hear that, boy?" he said to Anthony.
Anthony nodded. Swiftly, Big Walker reached up and slapped him a stinging blow. It brought tears to his eyes, and a burning hatred for the big black man. Anthony whimpered once, but that was all. He wouldn't cry out.
"Now, now, Anthony," he Mars soothed him. "Walker didn't mean nothin'. But he hates to have anyone, even a favorite chile like you, forget his proper respect. Say what you have been taught to say when I speak to you."
"Yay suh, no suh," Anthony managed in a tiny voice, gulping tears.
"Uh-uh, now I told you that 'yay' and 'suh' nonsense is fo' my field property. My house property says like this: 'Yay-es sur.' You see, the field cain't do it. Big Walker cain't. But you can, Anthony. Say it now, properly: 'Yay-es sur.' "
"Yays-surah," Anthony said, the best an almost-six-year-old piece of property could do.
The man sighed. "That will do fine. Just remember, boy, that under Gawd I am your lawgiver and your judge."
Then, coolly, he Mars studied Big Walker. "Love and fear," he murmured. "Reason, gratitude, obedience, shame." He grinned at Big Walker. "Now ain't you ashamed to be hittin' a po' little one like-a that!"
"Yay suh!" Big Walker said instantly, eyes downcast.
"So you see, Anthony," said he Mars, "Walker feelin' ashamed of himself for hittin' you. He don't mean to. But you must never again give him cause. You must think, and be thankful that you are taken care of. Do right the first time. Remember that, Anthony."
Anthony remembered. "Yays-surah," he said softly.
"Then, let's ride!" he Mars said. And they rode. Gone were Anthony's tears and hurt. Oh, how he loved a strutting pony! Sitting there in the most favored place in front of he Mars himself, as long as Mars' own boy, Charles, was off in school, made Anthony instantly, completely, happy.
They rode in the early morning. For he Mars did not care to have neighbors see him ride holding Anthony on the saddle with him. It was all right if his own property saw, but that was all. He Mars never paid much attention to Anthony at other times. But when they rode, it was as if the two of them were in a world of their own. He Mars then held Anthony close and would brush Anthony's cheek with his own while talking to him.
The field and house word was that Anthony was he Mars Suttle's own boy. It was a fact that Mamaw labored in the Suttle kitchen, cooking all the food for the big house and the field hands and taking care of he Mars's sitting room and Master's bedroom. Missy Suttle had her own upstairs maid.
It was true, Anthony's skin was lighter than that of most property. And his mamaw was indeed a breeder woman. She was made to have a baby each year so that he Mars would increase his holdings. Still, nobody knew for certain whether Anthony was he Mars John Suttle's second son. Word along the cabin row was that the big, tall Walker was who he belonged to.
Excerpted from Anthony Burns by Virginia Hamilton. Copyright © 1988 Virginia Hamilton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted June 29, 2003
I know this book is good because it tells about an important event slavery. I think everyone should focus on something like this book because it makes you ask more questions and find out the answers.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 4, 2002
This novel was a great story. I had to read a book for my English class and I dont think I could have choosen a better one. This story was written very well with simple vocabulary. The parts that I disliked were how it jumped back and forth between time periods. Another part of the story I disliked was the dialogue between the slaves because of their little education. Everything else was great. This story was outstanding and I recommend it to anyone.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 30, 2001