One of the Most Ingenious Escapes from Slavery to Freedom
I celebrated 2020 Black History Month each day by looking for changemakers and trailblazers.
William and Ellen Craft, owned by two different slave masters in Macon, Georgia, pulled off one of the most ingenious escapes from slavery to freedom.
At age 16 William was sold to a local bank cashier and because he was a skilled cabinetmaker was allowed to keep working at the same shop where he had apprenticed. His new owner collected most of William’s wages, but I suspect William saved what he could.
Ellen’s father was her slave master, and her mother was one of his biracial slaves. Her skin was so fair that she was often mistaken for a child of the white family. This annoyed the mistress so much that she sent 11-year-old Ellen to Macon, Georgia in 1837 as a wedding present to her daughter, where she served as a ladies maid.
When Ellen and William got married, they didn’t want to have a family while still slaves since their children could be ripped from their arms at any time and possibly never been seen again. So, they began to plot how they could escape slavery.
They finally came up with the idea to capitalize on Ellen’s fair complexion to have her pose as a wealthy white planter while William would be her male servant. Leaving on December 21, 1848, they traveled by train and steamer, openly staying in hotels along the way. Since Georgia law prohibited teaching slaves to read or write, they even had to come up with a ruse to explain why Ellen couldn’t sign the hotel registers.
After many other ruses and close brushes with being discovered, they arrived safely in Philadelphia on Christmas Day 1848. This was the beginning of a new and remarkable life for this clever couple.
Read more about them in their book Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, available on Amazon.
Learn about their adventures in this compelling Smithsonian article, Passing as a white man traveling with his servant, two slaves fled their masters in a thrilling tale of deception and intrigue
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