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ellen and william craft
Transcript of ellen and william craft
Most runaway slaves escaped to freedom in the dead of night, often chased and hunted by barking bloodhounds.
A few fugitives, such as Henry “Box” Brown who mailed himself north in a wooden crate!
My favorite escape was when Ellen and William Craft, traveled in first-class trains, dined with a steamboat captain and stayed in the best hotels during their escape to Philadelphia and freedom in 1848. And that is what my presentation will be about today.
It was William who came up with the scheme to hide in plain sight, but ultimately it was Ellen who convincingly masked her race,
Ellen, a quadroon with very fair skin, disguised herself as a young white cotton planter traveling with "his" slave (William).
As a child, Ellen, the offspring of her first master and one of his biracial slaves, had frequently been mistaken for a member of his white family. Much annoyed by the situation, the plantation mistress sent 11-year-old Ellen to Macon, GA to her daughter as a wedding present in 1837, where she served as a ladies maid. Ellen and William married, but having experienced such horrible family separations, they decided having children wouldn't be the best idea, fearing they would be torn away from them. “The mere thought,” William later wrote of his wife’s distress, “filled her soul with horror.”
Before setting out on December 21, 1848, William cut Ellen’s hair to neck length. She also put her right arm in a sling, which would prevent hotel clerks and others from expecting “him” to sign a registry or other papers. Georgia law prohibited teaching slaves to read or write, so neither Ellen nor William could do either. Refining the invalid disguise, Ellen asked William to wrap bandages around much of her face, hiding her smooth skin and giving her a reason to limit conversation with strangers. She wore a pair of men’s trousers that she herself had sewed. She then donned a pair of green spectacles and a top hat. They knelt and prayed and took “a desperate leap for liberty.”
William, knowing that slaveholders could take their slaves to any state, slave or free, hit upon the idea of fair-complexioned Ellen passing herself off as his master—a wealthy young white man because it was not customary for women to travel with male servants. Initially Ellen panicked at the idea but was gradually won over.
In Philadelphia, Ellen and William were quickly given assistance and lodging by the underground abolitionist network. They received a reading lesson their very first day in the city. Three weeks later, they moved to Boston where they both got jobs. After two years, in 1850, slave hunters arrived in Boston in order to bring them back to Georgia. The Crafts fled again, this time to England, where they eventually had five children. After 20 years they returned to the States and in the 1870s established a school in Georgia for newly freed blacks.
Through all the struggles and long journeys... through playing deaf and playing blind at times, through the gates, trains, boats, and stubborn people they got through; they finally arrived in Philly!
William and Ellen Craft
From Georgia to Philly to Boston