For sheer creativity and daring, few slave escapes can match the 1848 getaway masterminded by William Craft (September 25, 1824 – January 29, 1900) and Ellen Craft (1826–1891) . The two had married in Macon, Georgia, in 1846, but were held in slavery by different masters. Terrified of being separated, they devised an ingenious plan to flee the Deep South for Philadelphia. The light-skinned Ellen cut her hair short, dressed herself in men’s clothing and wrapped her head in bandages to pose as an injured white man. William, meanwhile, assumed the role of her loyal black manservant. On December 21, 1848, the Crafts donned their disguises and boarded a train to begin the long journey North. The scheme seemed doomed from the very start after Ellen found herself sitting next to a close friend of her master, but her elaborate costume prevented her from being recognized.
The Crafts spent the next several days traveling by train and steamer through the South, lodging in fine hotels and rubbing elbows with upper class whites to maintain their cover. Since she could not read or write, Ellen placed her arm in a sling to avoid signing tickets and papers, but her ruse was nearly found out when a Charleston steamer clerk refused to sell the pair their tickets without a signature. Luckily for the Crafts, the captain of their previous ship happened to pass by and agreed to sign for her. The Crafts arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Day and were sheltered by abolitionists before continuing on to Boston. Fearing slave hunters, the couple later set sail for England.
They lived there for nearly two decades and reared five children. The Crafts lectured publicly about their escape. In 1860 they published a written account, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom; Or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery. One of the most compelling of the many slave narratives published before the American Civil War, their book reached wide audiences in Great Britain and the United States. After their return to the US in 1868, the Crafts opened an agricultural school for freedmen‘s children in Georgia. They worked at the school and its farm until 1890. Their account was reprinted in the United States in 1999, with both the Crafts credited as authors, and it is available online at Project Gutenberg and the University of Virginia.