By Cherri Gregg

By Cherri Gregg

DELAWARE (CBS) — Delaware Governor Jack Markell will issue a pardon today for a free Black man from Kent County who was convicted in 1847 of helping enslaved people escape their owners.

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Samuel D. Burris was born into freedom in or around 1813 in the Willow Grove section of Delaware. He was well-educated, the son of George Burris, a free Black man. But the younger Burris is most known for his acts of defiance. He was a conductor on the Underground Railroad where he helped numerous people from Maryland and Delaware escape slavery.

“I am thrilled that we are honoring a hero who risked his life to help others to freedom,” says Robert Seeley, who lives in Haverford.

He began the letter-writing crusade to pardon Burris in January of this year. Seeley is a descendant of abolitionist Thomas Garrett who is said to have helped 2700 enslaved people escape to freedom, including Harriet Tubman.

Seeley says Garrett worked alongside Burris and farm owner John Hunn to smuggle the escapees to freedom. Burris was convicted under Delaware law on November 2, 1847. He languished in a Dover jail and was sold into slavery where he was bought for $500 by white abolitionist posing as a slave owner.

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Eventually, Burris left Delaware, but continued to help the abolitionist cause. Today, Burris’ acts of defiance will be repaid by having his name cleared in the books by the Governor of Delaware. Once called a criminal, he’ll officially be called a hero by the state, roughly 160 years after his death.

“He was free, he was well-educated,” says Seeley, “he didn’t have to participate in breaking the law of the land. He knew the consequences like many of the radical abolitionists of that time, but he still did it.”

Seeley says the next step is to push for federal pardons for Garrett and Hunn.

The program for Burris’ pardon today will also include the dedication of a new historical marker honoring the Underground Railroad conductor. It will take place at The Old State House located at 25 The Green in Dover, Delaware.

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