Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom

Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom

by William and Ellen Craft


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William Craft says of the classic slavery memoir, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom-Or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery, "This book is not intended as a full history of the life of my wife, nor of myself; but merely as an account of our escape; together with other matter which I hope may be the means of creating in some minds a deeper abhorrence of the sinful and abominable practice of enslaving and brutifying our fellow-creatures."

Ellen Craft (1826-1891) and William Craft (September 25, 1824 - January 29, 1900)[1] were slaves from Macon, Georgia in the United States who escaped to the North in December 1848 by traveling openly by train and steamboat, arriving in Philadelphia on Christmas Day. She passed as a white male planter and he as her personal servant. Their daring escape was widely publicized, making them among the most famous of fugitive slaves. Abolitionists featured them in public lectures to gain support in the struggle to end the institution.

As the light-skinned quadroon daughter of a mulatto slave and her white master, Ellen Craft used her appearance to pass as a white man, dressed in male clothing, during their escape.

As prominent fugitives, they were threatened by slave catchers in Boston after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, so the Crafts emigrated to England. They lived there for nearly two decades and reared five children. The Crafts lectured publicly about their escape. In 1860 they published a written account, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; Or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery. One of the most compelling of the many slave narratives published before the American Civil War, their book reached wide audiences in Great Britain and the United States. After their return to the US in 1868, the Crafts opened an agricultural school for freedmen's children in Georgia. They worked at the school and its farm until 1890.

Ellen planned to take advantage of her appearance to pass as white while the pair traveled by train and boat to the North; she dressed as a man and pretended illness to limit conversation. William was to act as her slave and personal servant. During that time period, domestic slaves frequently accompanied their masters during travel, so the Crafts did not expect to be questioned. Their escape is known as the most ingenious plot in fugitive slave history, even more ingenious than "Henry Box Brown".[6]

During their escape they traveled on first-class trains, stayed in the best hotels, and Ellen dined one evening with a steamboat captain. Ellen cut her hair and bought appropriate clothes to pass as a young man, traveling in jacket and trousers. William used his earnings as a cabinet-maker to buy clothes for Ellen to appear as a white slave holder. They carefully selected clothes that white male slave holders would wear. Ellen's wardrobe included a top hat, cravat, jacket, tartan, and a tassel, all of which signified slave holder status. William fixed her hair to add to her manly appearance. Ellen also practiced to get gestures and behavior right.[6] She wore her right arm in a sling to hide the fact that she did not know how to write. They traveled to nearby Macon for a train to Savannah. Although the Crafts had several close calls along the way and neither could read nor write, they were successful in evading detection. On December 21, they boarded a steamship for Philadelphia, in the free state of Pennsylvania, where they arrived early on the morning of Christmas Day.[7]

Their innovation was in escaping as a pair. Historians have noted other slave women who posed as men to escape, such as Clarissa Davis of Virginia, who dressed as a man and took a New England-bound ship to freedom; Mary Millburn, who also sailed as a male passenger; and Maria Weems from the District of Columbia. As a young woman of fifteen, she dressed as a man and escaped.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781508726142
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 03/05/2015
Pages: 72
Sales rank: 458,976
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.15(d)

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