Thursday, April 24, 2008

Crafts look at his later

The Crafts quickly moved to Boston, which had an established free black

William Craft
community on Beacon Hill and 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.
The ink

Ellen Craft
had barely dried on this new bill when two bounty hunters named Willis Hughes and John Knight traveled north from Macon to return the Crafts to slavery by persuasion or by force. They met with resistance and harassment from black and white Bostonians, who moved the couple around the city to elude their detection and recapture. Defeated, Hughes and Knight soon returned to Georgia. The Crafts no longer felt safe, however, even in the northern states. In December 1850, just two years after they had fled slavery, they sailed into calmer waters in Liverpool, England

In December of 1848, the Crafts escaped enslavement. Ellen’s light complexion allowed her to dress as a white man. She then claimed William was her slave. This plan worked and they settled in Boston where they became famous because of their remarkable and romantic escape. Their story briefly generated a sizeable income. With their new wealth, the Crafts started a successful furniture business. In their spare time, Ellen and William participated in antislavery lectures with fugitive slave William Wells Brown. In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act as part of the Compromise of 1850. Consequently two slave catchers, Willis Hughes and John Knight, traveled north to capture the Crafts. The town of Boston sheltered the couple and kept them away from the bounty hunters, but the Crafts no longer felt safe anywhere in the United States and moved to England in 1851.
For safety, they then moved on to Boston, the center of the Abolitionist movement. There, they supported themselves by working in their respective trades: cabinet-making for William and sewing for Ellen. Both became active in the abolitionist movement and gained fame on the lecture circuit. Stories about them were published in The New York Herald, The Boston Globe, the Georgia Journal and The Macon Telegraph.
In 1850 the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, permitting the forcible recapture of ex-slaves from free states. Ellen’s former master, Dr. Collins, sent two slave catchers to hunt her down. An ex-slave group called the League of Freedom protected Ellen and William. But no longer feeling safe in Boston, the Crafts decided to flee to England, going over land to Maine to board a ship departing for England from Canada.
They remained in there for several weeks before continuing on to Boston, where abolitionists hailed them as the heroes they were. They spent the next few months on a speaking tour of Massachusetts and then began boarding in the Beacon Hill home of black activist Lewis Hayden. Ellen worked as a seamstress and William as a cabinetmaker. He became both a successful tradesman and a leader in Boston's black community.
In September of 1850, however, a newly passed federal law, the Fugitive Slave Act, put them in jeopardy. Northerners were now obliged to help slave owners reclaim their "property." Within a month, two agents arrived in Boston looking for the Crafts. William barricaded himself in his shop while friends stood guard outside. The agents persisted, but William managed to get himself back to the Haydens'. Lewis Hayden armed his house with kegs of gunpowder and vowed to blow it up rather than surrender a single person under his protection. Ellen Craft went into hiding at Reverend Theodore Parker's home. For the next two weeks, the minister wrote his sermons "with a sword in the open drawer under [his inkstand], and a pistol in the flap of the desk."
Anti-slavery activists harassed and threatened the agents and followed them everywhere. In the course of five days, they had them arrested five different times on charges such as slander and attempted kidnapping. Finally, the agents were intimidated into leaving the city.
The abolitionists were jubilant, but they knew that the Crafts were no longer safe, even in Boston. When the Crafts' former masters wrote to President Millard Fillmore for help, he replied that he would mobilize troops if necessary to see the law enforced. The Crafts decided that, like hundreds of other fugitive slaves, they would have to leave Boston. Since all the ports were being watched and guarded, they traveled overland to Nova Scotia, where they eventually boarded a boat to England.

William and Ellen Craft in Kingston
February 9, 1849
A letter to Garrison, from T. Bicknell, Kingston, Feb 8th, tells of an Anti-Slavery meeting in the Town Hall. W. W. Brown, and the Crafts, and Jonathan Walker are present. Brown introduces Mr. Craft, who spoke, ” and in a very modest and becoming manner gave the details of the recent escape of himself and wife from slavery…..The crowded assembly present were deeply interested in the narrative, and frequently interrupted him with bursts of applause…..”
Crafts in New Bedford
February 16, 1849
A note about Anti-Slavery meetings in New Bedford, two successive evenings. W.W. Brown introduced the Crafts. During the presentations by the two they were questioned by the audience.
“A lady in the audience wanted to know of Ellen if they called her ‘a nigger’ at the South. ‘Oh, yes, ‘, she said, ‘they didn’t call me anything else; they said it would make me proud’”
“William was asked what he expected to do, if any attempt was made to take him. Said he, with deep energy, ‘I knew the consequences; I made up my mind to kill or be killed, before I would be taken.’”
Public Welcome for Crafts
April 6, 1849
“The meeting at the Tremont Temple, on Sunday evening last, to extend to William and Ellen Crafts, the interesting fugitives from Georgia, a public welcome, was one of thrilling interest, and doubtless of highly beneficial results.” Garrison made introductory remarks, William W. Brown introduced the Crafts. Mr. Craft spoke, followed by Wendell Phillips, in his usual eloquent strain: “most effectively did he exhibit the criminal indifference and hypocrisy of the American Church, and the base subserviency of the political parties (Free Soil not excepted), on the subject of slavery.”
Unsuccessful effort to capture the Crafts
December 6, 1850
From the Georgia Constitutionalist is an account of an unsuccessful attempt to recapture fugitive slaves from Boston. It is written by Willis H. Hughes, from Macon, dated Nov. 21, 1850, and is addressed to “fellow citizens”. The fugitive is named as “Bill”, but it becomes clear it is William Craft. Hughes recounts the ways in various officials in Boston avoided assisting him by delays, postponements, jurisdictional disputes, and even at one time when he was arrested for slandering Ellen Crafts, and held to bail for $20,000. He indicates that he has leaned that the Crafts had “positively left for England”. Hughes concludes that he “went to Boston as an agent to execute a lawful trust, thinking I should be protected and assisted by the laws of my country. But, on the contrary, from the first, the laws of the country, instead of a protection, were made an engine of cruelty, oppression, injustice, and abuse; so that my life was constantly endangered, and this, without the first offer of assistance from Government, national, State, or city. I feel that every man who has a Southern heart in his bosom, and would maintain the honor of his country, should sustain the Southern right cause, by every constitutional measure, until our rights are acknowledged, and justice obtained.”
A similar account is given here by John Knight, the slave Pursuer, from Macon, who had been with Mr. Hughes.

Their journey ended in Boston, where they arrived in early 1849, and after speaking at the Brookline Town Hall, stayed at the Bowditch House and other Brookline Underground Railroad stops. The Crafts fled once again to England after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850,

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