Unity through Diversity

Mixis Living Trailblazers

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ELLEN CRAFT: Born in 1826 in Clinton, to Major James Smith, a wealthy plantation owner and Maria, his mixed-race slave. Fair skinned, Ellen resembled her siblings in the master's family. Wanting to rid the house of the evidence of her husband’s cheating, Smith's wife gave the 11-year old Ellen as a wedding gift to her daughter Eliza Cromwell Smith, who took her to the city of Macon after Eliza Smith married Dr. Robert Collins. Ellen grew up as a house servant to Eliza, which gave her privileged access to information about the area. Ellen married a fellow slave named William Craft. Not wanting to rear a family in slavery, the couple planned an escape during the Christmas season of 1848. Ellen’s plan was to pass as white, and not only white but also a white man. She posed as a planter while they traveled by train and boat to the North, with William to act as her slave and personal servant. A white woman could not travel alone with a male slave in those days. She cut her hair and bought appropriate clothes, traveling in jacket and trousers. She wore her right arm in a sling to hide the fact that she did not know how to write. Their daring escape was widely publicized, making them among the most famous of fugitive slaves. They escaped to England where they lived for nearly two decades and reared five children. The Crafts lectured publicly about their escape and published a written account in 1860. One of the most compelling stories, their book reached wide audiences in Great Britain and the United States. After the American Civil War and passage of constitutional amendments granting emancipation, citizenship and rights to freedmen, the Crafts returned with three of their children to the United States and founded the Woodville Co-operative Farm School in 1873 for the education and employment of freedmen. Ellen participated in reform organizations such as the London Emancipation Committee, the Women's Suffrage Organization, and the British and Foreign Freedmen's Society.