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ANTHONY BURNS by Virginia Hamilton

ANTHONY BURNS

The Defeat And Triumph Of A Fugitive Slave (laurel-leaf Books)

By Virginia Hamilton

Pub Date: June 5th, 1988
ISBN: 0679839976
Publisher: Knopf

Part history, part fictionalized narrative: the story of a runaway slave who was returned from Boston to his master in Virginia under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Beginning with the day Bums was captured by a federal marshal and imprisoned in a makeshift jail in Boston's courthouse, Hamilton alternates the progress of his trial--with noted abolitionist Wendell Phillips making speeches and patrician attorney and novelist Richard Henry Dana as volunteer defense attorney--with Anthony's flashback retreats into his past. As counterpoint to the documented legal and political maneuverings, these glimpses of slavery are profoundly moving (we see Anthony as a favorite nuzzled against his master's chest on an early morning ride or, when he's older, submitting to a game of dominance before his master's friends). Returning from these memories, Anthony is depicted as almost unaware of the riots, the armed troops guarding the courthouse, or the judge doggedly carrying out President Pierce's order that the law be upheld. The six fictionalized chapters on Anthony's earlier life, interspersed through the narrative of events in Boston, give the reader a strong sense of his pain, frustration, and confusion; but the transitions (present fades to past in a manner made familiar on film, but seeming artificially abrupt here) interrupt the story, and the authentic courtroom scenes with their subtle (albeit vital) points of law will discourage many readers. However, those who meet Hamilton's challenge will be rewarded with an unforgettable image of an intelligent, courageous man. Bibliography of sources; index; selections from the Fugitive Slave Act.