Many people, Black and non-Black, have never heard of William and Ellen Craft. In fact, many have never heard of this couple’s daring escape for freedom. For Black History Month, I’m going to share their incredible story with you.
William and Ellen Craft were an enslaved couple from Macon, Georgia. William was a carpenter and Ellen was a house servant. William and Ellen wanted to raise a family but like so many other slaves, they didn’t want to bear any children into slavery. William and Ellen’s strong desire not to bear children into slavery resulted in what’s been called the most ingenious plot in fugitive slave history.
Because Ellen was a quadroon, she could easily pass for White. Since it wasn’t customary for a White woman to travel alone with a Black male servant, Ellen and William decided to dress her up as a White male slave owner. William, in turn, would come along with her as her slave.
William and Ellen bought clothes similar to what White slave owners wore and styled her hair in a way that would give her a manly appearance. To hide the fact that Ellen couldn’t write, William put her arm in a sling. By putting Ellen’s arm in a sling, this would evoke pity on her part.
Whenever it came time to speak, Ellen pretended to have an illness or speech impediment. While on the run, they traveled first class, stayed in the finest hotels and even dined on fine foods. By the time their ingenious plot was figured out, they were already up North living as a free Black couple with their children who were born free.
William and Ellen Craft’s escape, like thousands of other Black slaves, angered White slave holders because slaves weren’t deemed as human, educated or equal. Their successful escape to freedom was a threat to their unjust society and a blow to their ego.
The Craft’s story, like so many others, shows that when a person really wants to be free, they’ll stop at nothing to attain it. If they can’t attain it, they would rather die trying.
Until next time…