The Great Escape From Slavery Pt. 2
Freedom by any Means Necessary
William and Ellen Craft
(This is my favorite story.)
William and Ellen married in Macon, Georgia, in 1846, but were owned by different slave masters. The two, madly in love, feared their separation and vowed to escape slavery.
On Dec. 21, 1848, the light-skinned Ellen cut her hair short, dressed in oversized men’s clothing, and wrapped her face in bandages to disguise herself as a white man. William played the role of manservant and the pair boarded a train headed North.
Ellen sat beside a close friend of her slave master on the train. She was frightened, confident their plan was foiled before they got started. Yet, the costume was so elaborate and convincing, no one suspected a thing.
Several days riding through the south on a train afforded them an opportunity to stay in dine hotels, although since she could not read or write, almost blew their cover on several occasions when she was asked to sign a paper or her train tickets. Ellen placed her arm in a sling to avoid signing paperwork but at one stop, the ticket taker would not allow them through without a signature. Another person agreed to sign for them, so she and William carried onward with their journey, finally arriving safely in Philadelphia on Christmas day where they were met by abolitionists who helped get them to Boston.
Henry “Box” Brown
Enslaved in Virginia in 1815, Henry “Box” Brown was married to Nancy, but she was owned by another slave master. Henry and Nancy were the parents of three children and had a fourth on the way when in 1848, Henry learned that his wife and children would be sold to a plantation in North Carolina.
Henry cried as he watched 350 slaves, including his wife and children, board the boat to North Carolina. He mourned for the loss for months before deciding that it was time to escape.
With help from friend James Caesar Anthony Smith, a free Black who knew Samuel Alexander Smith, a White sympathizer, Henry devised a plan: he’d be shipped out in a box by rail.
Dangerous yet clever, the plan would take Henry to Philadelphia. And so, the men shipped Henry via Adams Express Company inside a foot-long box measuring 2-foot wide on March 23, 149.
Henry was inside the box for 27-hours, oftentimes with handlers turning it upside down, tossing it, and otherwise handling it roughly. Henry thought that he was going to die at some point during the trip. He later wrote that he was “resolved to conquer or die, I felt my eyes swelling as if they would burst from their sockets; and the veins on my temples were dreadfully distended with the pressure of blood upon my head.”
He arrived, with William Still, James Miller McKim, Professor C.D. Cleveland, and Lewis Thompson opening the box. When Henry stepped out of the box, he greeted the man with a nice salutation, “How do you do, Gentleman,” before reciting a psalm.
Samuel Smith attempted to ship more enslaved from Virginia to Philadelphia but he was discovered and arrested on May 8, 1949, sentenced to serve 6 ½ years in prison. James Smith was arrested Sept. 25 for an attempted shipment of slaves but he was released.
Harriet Jacobs spent years inside of a self-made prison, all for the shot to escape slavery.
Born into slavery on Feb. 11, 1813, Harriet Jacobs was determined to escape and gain her freedom. The plight for freedom escalated when her enslaver began to make sexual advances toward her. The enslaver refused to allow her to marry, even though she birthed two children by another man.
When the enslaver threatened to sell her children in 1835 if she did not give in to his sexual advances, Jacobs fled on foot from the plantation. She hid out at a friend’s house for several days before eventually making her way to her grandmother’s home. Jacobs would soon imprison herself at her grandmother’s home for seven years before finally escaping to head up North.
The nine-foot-long and seven foot wide attic space was the best hide out spot for Jacobs to stay without getting caught by her master. The rat-infested crawlspace was too small for Jacobs to stand in. The attic smelled horrible and offered her no light or air.
Jacobs left the crawlspace intermittently at night, staying out long enough to exercise and get fresh air before she returned to the attic.
In 1842, Jacobs escaped North with help from a friend who secured passage on a Philadelphia-bound boat. She then took a train to New York.
For the next several years, Jacobs worked and enjoyed time with her family, fully aware that her slave master could find her at any time. She purchased her freedom after many years and later became an influential abolitionist.
This is a three-part series.
Click here to read part one.
Click here to read part three.