Previous in this series: Some Context. White Children Sold into Slavery? Ellen’s Life in Bondage William’s Life in Bondage The Dismemberment of William’s Family Quoting the Slave Codes Reason to Flee The Perils of Flight Full text of the narrative.
Refusing to bear children into slavery, the Crafts decided to flee for freedom. But in the face of the vast distances and very real dangers of a likely failure, they resolved to bide their time until they had a plan with a higher chance of success or circumstances changed. One of them, or both together, got an idea. William credits himself but given the transgression of Victorian social and religious mores it required, he may have claimed it to spare Ellen a scandal. The determination of both Crafts fairly leaps from the page, but most of their concrete examples of slavery’s evils seem to draw from her life and family history.
At any rate:
Knowing that 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 effect our escape. After I thought of the plan, I suggested it to my wife, but at first she shrank from the idea. She thought it was almost impossible for her to assume that disguise, and travel a distance of 1,000 miles across the slave States. However, on the other hand, she also thought of her condition. She saw that the laws under which we lived did not recognize her to be a woman, but a mere chattel, to be bought and sold, or otherwise dealt with as her owner might see fit. Therefore the more she contemplated her helpless condition, the more anxious she was to escape from it. So she said, “I think it is almost too much for us to undertake; however, I feel that God is on our side, and with his assistance, notwithstanding all the difficulties, we shall be able to succeed. Therefore, if you will purchase the disguise, I will try to carry out the plan.”
Completely aside the bravery required, one has to admire Ellen’s pluck in turning the slave codes against their authors. The Crafts turned them around in other ways too. William needed clothes for Ellen’s disguise and went about to different places about Macon at different times to buy them piece by piece.
I was afraid to go to any one to ask him to sell me the articles. It is unlawful in Georgia for a white man to trade with slaves without the master’s consent. But, notwithstanding this, many persons will sell a slave any article that he can get the money to buy. Not that they sympathize with the slave, but merely because his testimony is not admitted in court against a free white person.
William hid the clothes away in a cabinet he made for Ellen, who as her owner’s maid had a small room to herself.
Eight days after they had the idea the Crafts started on their way.