Author Craft Ellen

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Categories: Nonfiction
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Ellen Craft (c. 1826 – c. 1897) was a slave in Macon, Georgia, in the United States. Her escape from slavery was widely publicized and used by abolitionists in their struggle to abolish the institution. Ellen Craft was among the most famous of escaped slaves. She married William Craft in 1846. The daughter of a slave woman and her white master, she disguised herself as a white man, and her husband, William, posed as her body servant, as they made a dramatic and dangerous escape from Macon to Savannah by train in 1848, and then north by steamship. The story they told was they were heading to Philadelphia to get medical attention for the infirm Ellen. The Crafts arrived in Philadelphia on December 25, 1848. Ellen Craft was born around 1826 in Clinton, Georgia. Her mother was a slave and her father was her mother's owner. As William tells in the published account of their escape, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, Ellen was so light-skinned that she was often mistaken as one of her mas


ter's family. This angered her mistress so much that she gave the eleven-year old Ellen as a wedding gift to one of her daughters. During the Christmas season of 1848, Ellen daringly decided to use her light skin to pass as white in order to travel by train and boat to the North, with William posing as her slave. But in order to carry out this plan, Ellen also had to pass as male since a single white woman would not have been traveling alone with a male slave at this time. Although they encountered several close calls along the way, the plan worked. Eight days after they began in Georgia, William and Ellen arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas day. Soon after their arrival, abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and William Wells Brown encouraged them to tell of their escape in abolitionist circles. For the next two years, the Crafts made public appearances where William told their story, and Ellen, silenced by a society that disapproved of women speaking publicly, stood nearby so that audiences could see the woman who braved such an escape. In 1850, however, William and Ellen went to England for fear that the Fugitive Slave Bill would end their freedom. The Crafts continued to make appearances abroad, and made a life there, including having four children. In 1868 they returned to the U.S. and eventually bought land in Georgia and opened an industrial school for young African Americans. Around 1897, Ellen died and was buried in Georgia under her favorite tree. Their narrative, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, offers a unique opportunity to study race, gender, and class in the nineteenth century. It is an exciting example of racial passing, cross-dressing, and middle-class performance in a society where each of these boundaries was thought to be distinct and stable. Their escape, and particularly Ellen's disguise, illustrates the interlocking nature of race, gender, and class, for Ellen's passing had to be successful in all three arenas simultaneously in order for them to travel undetected. And since William's narrative voice actually tells the story, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom also shows how difficult it was, even for a woman bold and daring enough to escape slavery in this way, to find a public voice as a black woman. Indeed, like her disguise, which involved poultices that "muffled" her and allowed her to avoid conversation, Ellen's voice is given through the filter of William's perspective (Running 290). We can never know exactly how much input Ellen had in the narrative, but she obviously affects the writing of the text. Her physical presence, for instance, proved crucial to audiences who listened to William's story -- they felt, as one newspaper notes, "considerable disappointment" in the event of Ellen's absence (National Anti-Slavery Standard, January 30, 1851, 141). And since William had over ten years to tell again and again the story of their escape and witness first hand audiences' reactions to Ellen's role and Ellen herself, the published account he presented in 1860 undoubtedly reveals Ellen's influence. Their account of the escape, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, published in England in 1860, is one of the most compelling of the many fugitive slave narratives.


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