Ellen Craft

Along with her husband, William Craft, Ellen Craft is known for having made what was probably the most dramatic escape from slavery ever recorded, told by William in his book Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom (1860). Ellen later became an active abolitionist and a school founder.
She was born in Clinton, Georgia, in 1826, the daughter of Major James Smith, a cotton planter, and his house slave, Maria. When Ellen was eleven, Smith gave her to Eliza, his daughter, as a wedding gift. Ellen moved to her new mistress’s home in Macon, Georgia, where she met William Craft, a fellow slave.
The couple planned to marry, but Ellen wanted to wait till after they were free so that their children would not be born into slavery. Being separated from her own mother at an early age had a lasting effect on her. “She had seen,” William later wrote, “so many other children separated from their parents in this cruel manner, that a mere thought of her ever becoming the mother of a child, to linger out a miserable existence under the wretched system of American slavery appeared to fill her very soul with horror.” However, when a good plan of escape did not soon materialize and when their owners gave them permission to wed, they married in 1846.
The Escape
By 1848, the Crafts had devised a plan of escape. Ellen would pose as a young male slave owner who was traveling to Philadelphia for medical reasons with William, her slave valet. Ellen could pass for white, but she had to play a man because a white woman would not travel alone with a male slave. To cover for her lack of a beard, she wrapped her face in handkerchiefs under the pretense of being sickly. Since she was illiterate, she put her writing arm in a cast so that she would not be expected to sign in at hotels.
The plan nearly failed when she found herself sitting next to an old white man who knew her well. She pretended to be deaf, which allowed her to strongly limit her verbal responses to his attempts at conversation. They reached Philadelphia, after traveling through the slave states of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, on Christmas day, 1848.
Life After Slavery
In Philadelphia, the Crafts were aided by free blacks and white Quakers. The Crafts then moved to Boston, where they stayed for two years, aided by abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and William Welles Brown, who arranged appearances for them. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, the Crafts traveled to Liverpool, England. The Crafts settled in London and became active on the antislavery lecture circuit. In 1860 William published their story as Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, and during the Civil War he worked to undermine British support for the confederacy. Ellen worked as a seamstress, raised funds for newly freed slaves, and helped to establish a school for girls in Sierra Leone.
In 1869, four years after the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of all slaves, the Crafts returned to the United States. After working for some time in Boston, they bought Woodville plantation in Ways Station near Savannah, where they grew rice and cotton. Ellen also ran a school for local children. Ellen Craft died in 1891.

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