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One of the most remarkable escapes from slavery: The story of Ellen and William Craft

Goran Blazeski

William and Ellen Craft were born into slavery. William was born on September 25, 1824, in Macon, Georgia, and Ellen was born in 1826 in Clinton, Georgia.

William Craft and his family were sold in order to settle his owner’s gambling debts and his new owner apprenticed him as a carpenter in order to earn money from his labor.Ellen was the daughter of an African American slave and her white owner. She was said to be passable as white, and she was often mistaken as one of her master’s legitimate children.

Slaves Waiting for Sale: Richmond, Virginia. Painted upon the sketch of 1853

Slaves Waiting for Sale: Richmond, Virginia. Painted upon the sketch of 1853

When Ellen was 11 years old, she was given as a wedding gift to the Collins Family in Macon, Georgia. There she would meet her future husband, William.

The two of them had different owners but they were allowed to get married. They feared to have children because there was a possibility that they might be separated and sold.In 1848, the Crafts began to devise their escape plan. It would be one of the most remarkable escapes ever recorded in a historic slave narrative.

William knew that slaveholders could take their slaves to any state and, since Ellen looked white, the Crafts believed that they could escape if Ellen posed as a cotton planter and William as her slave.Since it was not customary for women to travel with male servants, Ellen had to disguise herself as a man, so she cut her hair, changed her walk, and wrapped her jaw in bandages to disguise her lack of a beard and posed as William’s white slave owner.

Ellen and William Craft, fugitive slaves and abolitionists

Ellen and William Craft, fugitive slaves and abolitionists

Their journey began at the train station where they purchased tickets to Savannah, 200 miles away. Ellen avoided engaging in conversation for eight hours, feigning deafness.When they arrived in Savannah, they boarded a steamship bound for Charleston, South Carolina, and then they took another steamer to Wilmington, North Carolina, and then a train to just outside Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Their next destination was Washington DC, from where they went by train to Baltimore, Maryland, and finally arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Day, 1848.The Crafts quickly moved to Boston, where abolitionist friends help them settle into a home.

They became instant celebrities in Boston due to their remarkable and romantic escape. They began traveling as antislavery lecturers and started a successful furniture business in Boston.

Ellen Craft dressed as a man to escape from slavery.

Ellen Craft dressed as a man to escape from slavery.

When the Fugitive Slave Act was ratified in 1850, they were no longer safe in the United States and decided to move to England in 1851.The Crafts spent nineteen years in England, where they raised their family and established a livelihood.

Here is another story on slavery from us: Robert Smalls stole a Confederate steamship to escape from slavery to freedom

They returned to Georgia in 1870 and launched the Woodville Co-operative Farm School in 1873 for the education and employment of newly freed slaves.In 1890, they went to Charleston where they lived with their daughter’s family. Ellen died in 1891 and William in 1900.