Anthony Burns was born into slavery in Virginia in 1834. He ran away from his owner and went to Boston. When the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850 he was arrested and returned to Virginia. He was sold to a new owner in North Carolina. Within a few months, he was purchased through money raised by the Baptist Church of Boston (1855). He had attended this church prior to his arrest.
With the support of a local Boston woman, Burns was able to attend Oberlin College in Boston. Records show he attended Oberlin College in 1855-1856 and 1857-1858.
In 1860, Burns was in charge of a Black Baptist Church in Indianapolis. With the threat of the enforcement of the Black Laws of the state, he came to St. Catharines where he became Pastor of Zion Baptist Church, a position he held until his death in 1862.