SLAVES IN DISGUISE MAKE IT NORTH TO FREEDOM
Ellen and William Craft were husband and wife slaves, married in 1846, in Macon Georgia. Ellen was Mulatto and William was of dark complexion (their skin tone plays a great part in their escape and what station they work in as slaves.) Ellen worked as a housemaid for a white physician, while William work for a white cabinetmaker. They could share a few hours together after their work was completed.
In December 1848, William came up with an idea to escape the slavery of the south and to head north to be free, start a family, start a new life. He wrote, "It occurred to me that, as my wife was nearly white, I might get her to disguise herself as an invalid gentleman, and assume to be my master... and that in this manner we might effect our escape."
In the beginning Ellen did not think this idea would work due to her smooth facial skin, neither of them could read or write, and they had to travel over 1,000 miles across slave states.
As Christmas approached, some slaves were given a few days off, so this is when Ellen and William finalized their plan. Ellen would pose as a young, wealthy slaveholder named William Johnson, and that they would use public transportation. Due to the fact that Ellen could not write, she put her arm in a sling, knowing a signature would be needed for them to board the train, she would simply ask for assistance. She also covered her chin area with a handkerchief. With this done they headed to the Macon train depot.
ROUTE TAKEN BY SLAVES
At one point they believed they were caught when they seen a neighbor of Ellen's master. Then a slaveholder offered to by William from Mr. Johnson (Ellen.) Mr. Johnson (Ellen) was continuously warned that he shouldn't take his slave north to the free states. The two-hundred-mile trip to Savannah passed and they then boarded another boat, bound for Charleston, South Carolina. Out of fear of getting caught Ellen and William stayed in the cabin until all the passengers were gone.
Ellen and William made their way to a hotel to wait out their departure by yet another boat to Wilmington.On their arrival, on December the 23, they then boarded a train heading for Richmond, Virginia. Next they took a train to Fredericksburg, a boat to Washington D. C. and then another train to Baltimore, Maryland. By now they had the roles as master and slave perfected.
On Christmas Eve, while in Baltimore William said "we felt anxious, we knew not what that last dark night would bring forth." Conductors in Baltimore were more watchful of slaves.They did not want any slaves to pass this point of travel for fear they would escape into Pennsylvania.
When Ellen learned that they may get sent back she thought that they were doomed to be slave for the rest of their life.However the conductor of the previous train vouched for them and they were on their way to Philadelphia, to a boarding house recommended to them.
They moved further north to Boston with the help of abolitionists.They became well known but were being hunted by men who could legally capture and return them to their masters, this was know as the Fugitive Slave Act and it was passed in1850.
The Crafts eluded the slave hunters and moved to England.There they had five children and learned to read and write. After ten years they returned to Georgia and started an agriculture school for slaves.
Because of financial problems and the rise of the KKK the were forced to close the school and to move in with their daughter.
FREEDOM AT LAST
Although the Klan burned down Ellen and Williams plantation they were never discouraged Ellen rebuilt and had plans on opening a school for children.
William wrote of their escape in 1860 titled: Running a Thousand Miles to Freedom.
Ellen died in 1891 and William in 1900 in Charleston, South Carolina.
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LIFE OF A SLAVE
- Slavery Slideshow | Underground Railroad Student Activity | Scholastic.com
Students explore the history behind slavery in America and learn what life was like for people living without freedom. This interactive photo slideshow includes images and audio to follow along in the classroom.
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