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Ellen Craft (American National Biography)

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Miriam DeCosta-Willis, "Craft, Ellen," American National Biography Online, Febraury 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-00370.html.

[Ellen Craft] was born on a plantation in Clinton, Georgia, the daughter of Major James Smith, a wealthy cotton planter, and Maria, his slave.  Ellen became a skilled seamstress and ladies' maid, esteemed for her grace, intelligence, and sweetness of temper. In Macon she met another slave two years her senior, William Craft, to whom she was legally wed in 1846…Because "the laws under which we lived did not recognize her to be a woman, but a mere chattel, to be bought and sold," as William wrote in the couple's autobiographical narrative, they devised a plan of escape. Ellen made a pair of men's trousers, while William worked a second job as a waiter to purchase their tickets for the North. On 21 December 1848, after obtaining Christmas passes from their owners, Ellen and William made their escape. Wearing a man's suit and green spectacles, the "almost white" Ellen disguised herself as "a most respectable looking gentleman," journeying North with William acting as her manservant. When Ellen attempted to book passage on a steamer out of Charleston, the ticket master insisted that she sign the register, but she could neither read nor write; fortunately, a young military officer stepped forward and offered to sign for the "gentleman."…On Christmas Day the runaways reached Philadelphia, where they were welcomed by abolitionists, including William Still, who described their escape in The Underground Rail Road (1872), and a Quaker family, who offered them a home and taught them to read and write their names.

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How to Cite This Page: "Ellen Craft (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/19558.