The Craft's flight to freedom
Ellen Smith Craft was born in Clinton, Georgia in 1826. Her father, Colonel James Smith, was white and was the owner of her mother, Maria. Maria was mulatto or mixed-race. Ellen was very fair skinned and often mistaken for being Caucasian. Ellen was separated from her mother at the age of eleven and given to Dr. Robert Collins. This was a wedding present for Dr. Collins who married Colonel Smith's daughter, Eliza. This was Ellen's white half-sister.It was here at her new master’s home in Macon, Georgia that Ellen meet William.William and Ellen married in 1846. Their marriage was not seen as legal or binding in the southern states. They weren't able to live together due to having different masters. They began to save their money and develop a plan to escape.Ellen disguised herself as a white gentleman traveling with his slave, William, to Philadelphia for medical treatment. Ellen was illiterate but skirted this issue by putting her right arm in a sling. This overtly injured arm could then be used as an excuse for not being able to write. To hide her feminine facial features she wore a poultice on her face. This bandage also discouraged conversations with strangers. With the plan in place they asked their masters for a few days to visit friends and families. It took them only four days to reach a Quaker farm near Philadelphia.
After arriving in Philadelphia on December 25th, 1848 William and Ellen spent 3 weeks with the Iven’s family. The Craft’s then decided to move to Boston, Massachusetts knowing they would be safer there then in Philadelphia. Once in Boston they were assisted by abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Parker, William Welles Brown (a fugitive slave) and Vigilance Committee of Boston. Their daring escape was the topic in abolitionist discussion and Brown arranged for the Craft’s to make appearances at their meetings in which an admission fee was charged. This admission fee was given to William and Ellen to help them to settle in Boston in a free black community on Beacon Hill. They both became involved with the abolitionist movement. In Boston, William having been apprenticed as a cabinetmaker by his former master continued this line of work and also started a furniture shop. Ellen took up work sewing, having been a household servant and familiar with needlepoint developed her skills and assisted William in upholstery of furniture in his shop. The Crafts spent two years in Boston in relative harmony, they had their marriage sanctioned by a Christian church and settled down to a life of freedom and lived comfortably.
During this time congress was attempting to hold the union together, California and Texas were territories recently acquired and were petitioning to join the union as free states. The slave states wishing to keep a balance between free and slave states were in an uproar over this. They would lose the balance of representatives in congress if this occurred. In order to appease the slave states the Compromise of 1850 was proposed by Henry Clay and on January 29th, 1950 the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted. The Fugitive Slave law allowed slave owners to recover escaped slaves in the free states and required authorities in the free states to assist in enforcing the law. Furthermore, both federal marshals and private citizens were mandated to help capture these fugitive slaves. While this compromise kept the Union intact it was the end of freedom to blacks living in the north.
Shortly after the Fugitive Slave Act was enacted the Craft’s learned two slave catchers, Willis Hughes and John Knight, were dispatched by Ellen's prior owner, Dr. Collins, to Boston to bring her back down south. William and Ellen decide to go to England not feeling that Canada would be safe. Abolitionists helped them to escape Boston. The authorities and slave catchers would be watching the ports so it was necessary for them to flee to Portland, Maine. In Portland they stayed with Daniel Oliver until leaving for St. John, New Brunswick. From St. John’s they took a steamer to Windsor Nova Scotia and then a coach to Halifax, Nova Scotia. They were the subject of racism and prejudice during flight from America but finally reached England.
Though they stayed in England until after the end of the Civil War, they worked passionately on their cause. During their time in England, they had four children and developed a business. William financed and went on several trips to Africa to teach Christianity and promote agriculture and trade. However, after these mostly unsuccessful trips, the Craft’s were left in financial ruin. It was at this time that they felt it best to return Stateside. The year was 1869.
The Craft’s were left in financial trouble after William's endeavors in Africa (teaching Christianity and promoting trade). They decided to return to America in 1869. At this point, the Civil War had ended and they purchased a plantation, Hickory Hill, in Savannah, Georgia. Their vision was to have a cooperative farm for freed slaves, but in 1870, a group of angry (white) people burned the farm to the ground, as well as the crops. A year later, they leased yet another farm, this time outside Savannah. Woodville became a cooperative farm and a school for blacks.Financial troubles, hostility and other factors followed the Craft's for the rest of their lives. In 1891, Ellen passed away and was buried, at her request, under a tree on their land. Following the passing of his wife, William relocated to Charleston, South Carolina where he later died.It should be noted that there is significantly more information available about Ellen Craft's life than her husbands. Most information regarding him is intertwined with his wife's biography.
1837 – Given as gift to the Smith family at age 11
1846 – Marries William Craft
1848 – Escapes to Boston with husband
1850 – Slave catchers attempt capture
1850 – Flees to England
1851 – Lectures across England about horrors of slavery
1852 – First child is born
1868 – Returns to U.S.
1869 – Settles in Hickory Hill, S.C.
1870 – Ku Klux Klan burns the Crafts’ cooperative farm
1873 – Purchases plantation in Georgia, opens school
1876 – White neighbors’ slander damages farm business and schoolJustin
I found a great web site that has the electronic version of William Craft's autobiography:Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery.