This was the first time that I ever saw Burris, and also the first time that I had ever been called upon to assist fugitives from the hell of American Slavery. The wanderers were gladly welcomed, and made as comfortable as possible until breakfast was ready for them. One man, in trying to pull his boots off, found they were frozen to his feet; he went to the pump and filled them with water, thus he was able to get them off in a few minutes.
This increase of thirteen in the family was a little embarrassing, but after breakfast they all retired to the barn to sleep on the hay, except the woman and four children, who remained in the house. They were all very weary, as they had traveled from Camden (twenty-seven miles), through a snowstorm; the woman and four children in the wagon with the driver, the others walking all the way. Most of them were badly frost-bitten, before they arrived at my house. In Camden, they were sheltered in the houses of their colored friends. Although this was my first acquaintance with S.D. Burris, it was not my last, as he afterwards piloted them himself, or was instrumental in directing hundreds of fugitives to me for shelter.
About two o’clock of the day on which these fugitives arrived at my house, a neighbor drove up with his daughter in a sleigh, apparently on a friendly visit. I noticed his restlessness and frequent looking out of the window fronting the road; but did not suppose, that he had come “to spy out the land.”
The wagon and the persons walking with it, had been observed from his house, and he had reported the fact in Middletown. Accordingly, in half an hour, another sleigh came up, containing a constable of Middletown, William Hardcastle, of Queen Ann’s county, Maryland, and William Chesnut, of the same neighborhood. I met them at the gate, and the constable handed me an advertisement, wherein one thousand dollars reward was offered for the recovery of three runaway slaves, therein described.
The constable asked me if they were in my house? I said they were not! He then asked me if he might search the house? I declined to allow him this privilege, unless he had a warrant for that purpose. While we stood thus conversing, the husband of the woman with the six children, came out of a house near the barn, and ran into the woods. The constable and his two companions immediately gave chase, with many halloos! After running more than a mile through the snow, the fugitive came toward the house; I went to meet him, and found him with his back against the barn-yard fence, with a butcher’s knife in his hand. The man hunters soon came up, and the constable asked me to get the knife from the fugitive. This I declined, unless the constable should first give me his pistol, with which he was threatening to shoot the man. He complied with my request, and the fugitive handed me the knife. Then he produced a pass, properly authenticated, and signed by a magistrate of Queen Ann’s county, Maryland, certifying that this man was free! and that his name was Samuel Hawkins.