It had been a scorching hot day with thick, humid air helping to carry the smell of cotton for miles. Running through the plantation fields for the last time, eleven year old Ellen knew at sundown she would be separated from her mother possibly never seeing her again. The mistress had become increasingly irritated that the young mulatto was always mistaken for one of her children and was a reminder of the master’s indiscretions. She would be taken to Macon, Georgia, as a wedding gift for her half-sister.
It was in Macon that Ellen would meet her future husband, William Craft, also a slave. And it was during this period that the talented seamstress decided no child she might eventually bear as a mother would be separated from her as was her case when her mother was suddenly gone. Her bloodline would never live under the wretched system of American slavery and suffer that kind of agonizing pain.
Fortitude, a tenacious resolve, quick thinking, suspicion, terror, and a major victory – all would shadow the gallant escape from slavery of William and Ellen Craft. It would be recorded as a thrilling tale of espionage, deception, and intrigue and one of the boldest, most brazen escapes from the institution of slavery ever.
Knowing slaveholders have the privilege of taking their slaves to any part of the country they think proper, it occurred to me that as my wife was nearly white, I might get her to disguise herself as an invalid gentleman, and assume to be my master, while I could attend as his slave, and that in this manner, we might affect our escape, wrote William, once they both finally learned to read and write. They realized this plan could either succeed or fail which would mean freedom or death.
Instead of fleeing in the midnight hour with the North Star; mailing themselves in crates and hoping the bloodhounds wouldn’t pick up a human scent; or devising clever ways to stow away on ships and wagons, the Crafts traveled out in the open during the day mainly by train in first class accommodations while also making connections on ferry boats and steamers. They dined with steamboat captains and stayed in the best hotels as they got closer to their destination of Philadelphia.
Yet, despite the luxury settings, the four day journey was fraught with narrow escapes and heart-in-the-mouth moments that could have led to their discovery and capture. Beardless and unable to sign in at hotels because she had never learned to read or write, she cleverly covered her face with a poultice, placed her writing hand in a cast, and donned tinted eyeglasses.
With the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 threatening their impending freedom, the Crafts were moved around Boston and then ushered safely to Liverpool, England, thanks to the abolitionist work of the Committee of Safety and Vigilance. After giving birth to five children, four born in England, the Crafts returned to the United States in 1868, opening an industrial/agricultural school near Savannah, Georgia, for freedmen’s children.
Jetta Dya Jones (a.k.a.) is a retired educator (Nikki Skies was one of her former students),a former model, and now a freelance writer and motivational speaker. Her inspirational book, The Breakthrough (Life Chronicles Publishing), the first of multiple literary, film,and curriculum projects, is scheduled to be released by early fall 2017. The native Kansas Citian currently resides in Inglewood, CA where she is currently developing and working towards funding for Ethan’s Kids, dedicated to the empowerment and support of creative youth artists and in memory of a young man very important in her life.