The Crafts (William’s Life in Bondage)

William Craft

William Craft

Previous in this series: Some ContextWhite Children Sold into Slavery? Ellen’s Life in Bondage Full text of the narrative.)

If her owners spared Ellen Craft some of the worst of living as a slave, her husband William did not have quite the same good fortune. While his wife saw at least some benefit in her family being dismantled as it helped her escape a cruel mistress, William had his family more harshly disassembled:

My old master had the reputation of being a very humane and Christian man, but he thought nothing of selling my poor old father, and dear aged mother, at separate times, to different persons, to be dragged off never to behold each other again, till summoned to appear before the great tribunal of heaven. But, oh! what a happy meeting it will be on that day for those faithful souls. I say a happy meeting because I never saw persons more devoted to the service of God than they. But how will the case stand with those reckless traffickers in human flesh and blood, who plunged the poisonous dagger of separation into those living hearts which God had for so many years closely joined together — nay sealed, as it were with his own hands for the eternal courts of heaven?

[…]

My old master also sold a dear brother and a sister, in the same manner as he did my father and mother. The reason he assigned for disposing of my parents, as well as of several other aged slaves, was, that “they were getting old and would soon become valueless in the market, and therefore he intended to sell off all the old stock, and buy in a young lot.”

Of course, managing slave property did not just take the form of minimizing losses. To increase their value, William’s owner apprenticed him and a brother out to a blacksmith and cabinet-maker, respectively. Tight times came, however, and

before our time [their apprenticeships] expired, my old master wanted money; so he sold my brother, and then mortgaged my sister, a dear girl about fourteen years of age, and myself, then about sixteen, to one of the banks, to get money to speculate in cotton. This we knew nothing of at the moment; but time rolled on, the money became due, my master was unable to meet his payments; so the bank had us placed upon the auction stand and sold to the highest bidder.

Given the investment in raising their price, one imagines William’s owner planned to sell them off anyway. One fattens the livestock up for the market. Cotton speculation simply advanced that timeline, from his perspective. So William and his remaining family went up on the auction block in precisely the kind of spectacle that the Armistice barred from the District of Columbia.

That part of the narrative deserves extensive quotation. I try to keep these posts short enough to appeal to casual readers, so that story will come tomorrow.

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