The Great Escape of Ellen and William Craft
Ellen and William Craft were slaves from Georgia who escaped to the North, where slavery had been abolished, in 1848. As the light-skinned daughter of a mulatto slave and her white master, Ellen used her appearance to pass as a white man, and William posed as her servant.
Ellen cut her hair and bought appropriate clothes, traveling in jacket and trousers. She wore her right arm in a sling to hide the fact that she did not know how to write. Over the next four days:
- Ellen found herself sitting next to a friend of her master on the train. She feigned deafness to discourage his attempts to engage her in conversation.
- A slave trader offered to buy William, and a military officer scolded Ellen for saying “thank you” to her slave.
- In South Carolina a ticket seller insisted on seeing proof that Ellen owned William. A passing captain intervened and sent them on their way.
- In a Virginia railway station a white woman confronted William, mistaking him for her own runaway slave.
- An officer in Baltimore threatened again to detain them without proof of ownership, but relented. [Source]
On December 21, they boarded a steamship for Philadelphia, where they arrived on Christmas Day. Threatened by slave catchers in Boston after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Crafts escaped to England, where they lived for nearly two decades and reared five children.
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(Photo by: Gregg Derr/The Patriot Ledger)
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(Photo by: Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger)
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