William and Ellen Craft’s daring escape from slavery is a tale that could one day be retold by a major movie studio. Mrs. Craft, a fair-skinned woman, posed as a white plantation owner while her husband posed as her servant during a risky journey from Georgia to Philadelphia in 1848. William Craft was born September 25, 1824 in Macon, Ga., and his family was sold by a master looking to absolve his debts.
Under his new owner, Mr. Craft became a carpentry apprentice. Mrs. Craft was born in Clinton, Ga. in 1826 to a mixed slave and a wealthy plantation owner.
The owner’s wife gave then 11-year-old Ellen to her daughter as a wedding gift to keep her husband’s infidelity a secret. Mrs. Craft was then taken to Macon where she worked as a house servant. The pair married in 1846, but they weren’t able to live with each other as they had different owners.
The Crafts didn’t want to raise children under those conditions, so Mr. Craft planned their escape on December 21, 1848. Deciding to hide in plain sight, Mrs. Craft disguised herself as a white male planter with Mr. Craft as a servant.
As favored slaves, the Crafts were able to get time off work to make their escape. Mrs. Craft cut her hair, wore men’s clothing and dressed her arm in a sling to hide that she couldn’t write. Mr. Craft also bandaged his wife’s face so it would limit her contact with others. The pair boarded a train in Macon bound for Savannah, barely avoiding detection.
According to one account, Mr. Craft was nearly caught by the owner of the cabinetmaking store where he worked. Mrs. Craft’s train car was searched, but Mr. Craft remained in the “Negro car” and the train pulled off before he could be discovered.