Disguise Leads To Freedom For Former Slaves

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Say the words “slave revolt” and images of bloody confrontations waged with guns, machetes, and pitchforks come to mind. But the self-liberation of former slaves Ellen and William Craft shows that the route to freedom could also be paved with smarts and guile as opposed to bloodshed.

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Using her light-skinned hue to her advantage, Ellen, a biracial slave born in 1826 in Georgia, figured that the best way to beat the slave holders in her region of the country was to, in a sense, join them.

Watch the Crafts’ story here:


So Craft cooked up a plan to to pose as a White slave owner by cutting her hair, adopting a man’s walking gait, and hiding the fact that she couldn’t read. All this with her “slave” in tow.

The plan allowed the Crafts to travel through the South to Philadelphia, where they arrived in the winter of 1848. They moved to Boston and became influential abolitionist speakers.

One would think that would be the heartwarming end to the Crafts story of ingenuity and bravery, but one would also be underestimating the brutality of the American slave system.

In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, which allowed slave masters to cross in to non-slaveholding areas to retrieve their “property.” The Crafts were forced to run to England but returned to Georgia after the Civil War.

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