Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ellen and William Craft


The story of Ellen and William Craft is a unique and dramatic triumph of sorts in the sad history of American slavery. Ellen Craft was born to a half-African/half-Caucasian slave and her white master in Clinton, Georgia in 1824. As a result of her ancestry, she was exceptionally light-skinned -- so much so that she was often mistaken by visitors for one of the master's legitimate children, which unnerved the white mistress of the house, who gave her to one of her daughters in Macon as a wedding gift. There she met and married William Craft, together with whom she devised an escape plan.

Two years later, they made their move, with Ellen posing as a white man (since traveling alone as a white woman with a male slave would have been considered inappropriate), her face and right arm wrapped in bandages to obscure her lack of facial hair and illiteracy, and with William posing as her slave. They made their way North by train and boat, reaching Philadelphia undetected on Christmas Day, 1848.

They were immediately embraced by the abolitionist circles of the North, led by William Lloyd Garrison, and they went on the lecture circuit. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), however, they found themselves at risk of being shanghaied back to Georgia, so they fled to England, where they raised a family and studied at an agricultural training school while continuing to lecture publicly against slavery.

In 1860, William published his autobiography, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom. They returned to the U.S. in 1868 and settled in Georgia to farm cotton and rice, briefly opening a school. Ellen died there and was buried under a favorite tree in 1891. William later moved to Charleston and died there on this date in 1900.

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