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Escape of William and Ellen Craft

Northeast

49

The experience of freedom seekers William and Ellen Craft suggest the dramatic mix of individual initiative and organized assistance that often characterized the operation of the Underground Railroad.

In December 1848, the Crafts waited at the Macon, Georgia train station to board the Savannah-bound train. Enslaved, illiterate and owned by different masters, the Crafts were poised to embark on a resourceful and daring escape to the North.

Ellen, the daughter of her slaveowner and her enslaved African Americanmother, was so light-skinned that she was able to posed as a frail slave owner. She carried her arm in a sling, covered her lower face with a poultice, hid her eyes behind dark green glasses, and wore a top hat to certify her assumed identity as a male. William played the role of the obediant African American accompanying the sickly master to Philadelphia in search of medical treatment.

Traveling by train to Savannah, where they stopped overnight, then by steamer and another train to Baltimore, the Crafts experienced anxious moments among curious passengers and near discovery by railroad agents. But on the Crafts’ Baltimore train there was also a free African American passenger.

Sensing that William might be a freedom seeker, the freeman suggested that William contact a certain Quaker when he arrived in Philadelphia, and with that suggestion the guiding hand of the Underground Railroad touched the Crafts.

Arriving at the Philadelphia train station, Ellen clasped William’s arm and said, "Thank God we are safe." The two exhausted freedom seekers sought out the Philadelphia Quaker who fed, housed, comforted, and kept them safe until it was time to conduct them to Boston, where the Crafts ended their 1,000-mile flight to freedom.