On September 18th 1850 the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law as a compromise between the southern slave states and the northern free states. This law allowed southern slave owners to reacquire runaway slaves in the free states. The law also required authorities in the free states to assist in the return of runaways. Anyone providing food, shelter or aid to fugitive slaves were subject to a $1000.00 fine and 6 months in jail. After the Crafts escape in December of 1848 they moved to Boston until December of 1850, they learned that two slave catchers, Willis Hughes and John Knight, had been sent by their prior masters to return them to Macon, Georgia. The Crafts fled to Nova Scotia and then to England.
1. 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.