WilliamandEllen Craft were slaves from Macon who gained celebrity after a daring, novel, and very public escape in December 1848. The daughter of an African American woman and her white master,
Ellen looked white and was able to dress as a southern slaveholder in trousers, top hat, and short hair to avoid detection by slave-catchers. Her darker-skinned husband, William, accompanied her by masquerading as her attentive slave valet. They journeyed by train from Macon to Savannah, where they boarded a steamship bound for Charleston, South Carolina. From there they took another steamer to Wilmington, North Carolina, then a train to just outside Fredericksburg, Virginia. They boarded yet another steamer bound for Washington, D.C., and finally proceeded by train to Baltimore, Maryland, and on across the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. Despite several close calls, the couple arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Sunday. They thought their freedom was then secure.
The Crafts quickly moved to Boston, which had an established free black community on Beacon Hill and a well-organized, protective abolitionist activity. William, a carpenter, founded a thriving furniture business. The pair looked forward to celebrating marriage sanctioned by a Christian church and rearing children who were free. They also participated with the fugitive slave William Wells Brown in antislavery lectures throughout New England, where they quickly won the hearts of audiences with their romantic tale of escape.
In 1850, however, Congress disturbed their peace by ratifying the Fugitive Slave Act, which made it a crime for residents of free states to harbor or aid fugitive slaves like the Crafts. The act also handsomely rewarded officers of the law for assisting slave owners by apprehending their fugitive “property” and sending them back to slavery.
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