Anthony Burns was born into slavery on a plantation in Virginia on May 31st, 1834. When his owner, John Suttle, died, his son Charles took over the maintenance of his father's slaves. Charles sold many of his father's slaves, but he kept Anthony and used him as rented labour. In 1854 Burns was given a job near the docks in Richmond and he used the opportunity to escape by hiding aboard a ship bound for Boston, Massachusetts.
With the aid of a sailor who supplied Burns with food, Anthony spent three weeks in a cold, damp and dark hiding space that was not even wide enough to turn over in. Eventually the ship landed in Boston where Anthony disembarked and began his life as a free man. Unfortunately, his freedom was short lived when on arriving home from work one day he was arrested and led to the courthouse jail where his owner, Charles Suttle, was waiting for him.