"Master Slave Husband Wife": A startling tale of disguise to escape slavery - CBS News

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One couple's singular flight from slavery

One couple's singular flight from slavery 07:15

Inside the Boston Public Library, heavy successful the stacks, are clues to an flight from slavery successful 1848 – a breathtaking operation of daring and deception. Author Ilyon Woo, who has spent the past 7 years combing done archives from Georgia to Massachusetts, showed "Sunday Morning" an illustration of Ellen Craft, an engraving based connected a daguerreotype image. "There's conscionable thing magical erstwhile you clasp this insubstantial successful your hands," she said.

ellen-craft-in-disguise-from-first-edition-book.jpg A representation of the biracial Ellen Craft, disguised arsenic a White antheral successful bid to flight slavery.  CBS News

Ellen Craft was an enslaved pistillate and seamstress surviving successful Macon, Georgia, successful the 1840s. She was the girl of an enslaved pistillate who had been impregnated by her White enslaver.  "When Ellen Craft was 11 years old, her mother, Maria, had to ticker arsenic her girl was fixed distant arsenic a wedding acquisition to her enslaver's oldest girl – her half-sister," Woo said.

In her aboriginal 20s, Craft joined an enslaved man, William Craft, a skilled cabinetmaker. "They were acrophobic to person children successful slavery," said Wood, "because their enslaver could scope down into the cradle that they had made for their kid and instrumentality their kid away. And there's thing they could bash successful the enslaved strategy successful bid to halt that."

They came up with a bold plan: Ellen would disguise herself arsenic a affluent White antheral who was traveling with "his" enslaved person: her husband, William. They would flight to the North successful plain sight.

Woo lays retired the Crafts' communicative successful her caller book: "Master Slave Husband Wife," published by Simon & Schuster (part of CBS' genitor company, Paramount Global).   

master-slave-cover-simon-schuster.jpg Simon & Schuster

"She enactment connected this disguise to conceal some her sex and her race," said Woo. "And to that, she added disability. She knew that she would person to motion for William, arsenic her slave, astatine assorted hotels and different stops. And she couldn't bash that due to the fact that she'd been denied literacy. And so, she had to fig retired however to get idiosyncratic other to motion for her oregon debar that situation. So, she puts her limb successful a sling. And she besides puts poultices connected her face. It astir serves arsenic a benignant of a mask."

The Crafts made their mode from Macon done the South, connected trains and steamboats, fending disconnected challenges from passengers and summons agents. It each astir ended successful Baltimore, the past halt earlier the North. An serviceman confronted them, and Ellen argued back, saying "You person nary close to detain america here."

"Finally the authoritative says, 'All right, I'll conscionable fto you go,'" said Woo.

"So, it's astir similar a wartime borderline crossing?" asked Whitaker.


As a child, Peggy Trotter Dammond Preacely learned astir her great-great-grandparents' unthinkable journey.  "As Black radical successful America, we person to deterioration a disguise often," she told Whitaker. "We can't ever let radical to cognize what we're thinking. So, this masking, and this disguise, and this quality to beryllium successful the country and absorb, was truthful unthinkable that it enabled them passim their 4 days of flight to brushwood definite situations and fig retired what to do."

The Crafts traveled archetypal to Philadelphia, past Boston, wherever they became the toast of the abolitionist community. They spoke astatine historical Faneuil Hall, and became portion of a roadworthy amusement featuring abolitionists similar William Wells Brown and Frederick Douglass.

The Crafts stayed astatine a location successful Boston's mostly Black Beacon Hill neighborhood. But the information wasn't over. The nationalist attraction alerted their erstwhile enslavers, who sent alleged "slave-hunters" up North to seizure them. Congress had conscionable passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required the nationalist to assistance seizure enslaved radical who escaped.

But the abolitionist assemblage successful Boston wasn't having it. The slave-hunters were harassed, some by rock-throwing crowds and the ineligible system.

According to Woo, "There were lawsuits against the enslaved hunters truthful that they would support them busy, and determination were smaller, pettier arrests arsenic well. They would get arrested for chewing baccy oregon driving excessively fast."

The slave-hunters fled from Boston.  But the Crafts inactive didn't consciousness safe. They uprooted their lives again, this clip sailing to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and past to Liverpool, England. There, they yet learned to work and write.

crafts-correspondence.jpg The Crafts gained not conscionable state but besides literacy upon their accomplishment successful England.  CBS News

In summation to letters to supporters, they wrote the communicative of their escape, "Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom," published successful 1860.

Woo said, "Almost arsenic soon arsenic they get successful a harmless space, they bash prosecute their duplicate dreams: One is literacy and learning, and the different is to person a free-born child."

About a twelvemonth aft their arrival, they had their archetypal child, Charles Estlin Phillips Craft. Altogether Ellen and William raised 5 children.

Great-great-granddaughter Peggy Preacely said, "I judge that bequest of the Crafts is truly a portion of each of our family, each of the descendants." She channeled that bequest into civilian rights advocacy, putting her astatine the halfway of the question successful the 1960s, joining marches successful the South. She showed Whitaker a photograph of her attending a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee/Albany Freedom Movement lawsuit successful Albany, Ga., successful 1962: "We were jailed doubly portion we were there, erstwhile successful a stockade. And it was my 3rd clip successful jailhouse successful the movement."

peggy-trotter-dammond-preacely.jpg Peggy Trotter Dammond Preacely, great-great-granddaughter of Ellen and William Craft. CBS News

Preacely is besides a poet, and has utilized poesy to support the daring spirits of Ellen and William Craft alive:

Today, we stand,
our household successful a perpetual ellipse of grace. 
Listening to our ancestors,
calling to america done humor and sacrifice and communal space,
to rise, continue, celebrate,
and persist connected this continuum
of corporate effort and idiosyncratic sacrifice.
Following their steppingstones to liberation.

READ AN EXCERPT: "Master Slave Husband Wife" by Ilyon Woo

For much info:

  • "Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom" by Ilyon Woo (Simon & Schuster), successful Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, disposable January 17 via Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound
  • ilyonwoo.com
  • Peggy Trotter Dammond Preacely
  • African American Cultural Center of Long Beach, Long Beach, Calif.
  • Boston Public Library
  • Massachusetts Historical Society
  • Savannah College of Art and Design

Story produced by Alan Golds. Editor: Ed Givnish. 

See also:

  • "Omar," an opera illuminating a Muslim slave's beingness successful America ("Sunday Morning")
  • Confronting past to heal a nation ("Sunday Morning")
  • A humanities reckoning for the planetary enslaved trade ("Sunday Morning")
  • Passage: The communicative of Juneteenth ("Sunday Morning")
  • Tracing the singular life's way of Harriet Tubman ("Sunday Morning")
  • slavery

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