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Historic map of Philadelphia

Crossing the Color Line to Freedom

Illustrations of William and Ellen Craft

William and Ellen Craft

William and Ellen Craft’s Daring Escape

Illustrations of William and Ellen Craft

William and Ellen Craft

William and Ellen Craft were a married couple whose escape from enslavement in Macon, Georgia, is remembered for its genius, danger, and daring. Ellen Craft, the child of her enslaver and her enslaved biracial mother, was a fair-skinned Black woman often mistaken as a member of her enslaver’s family. William, a dark-skinned Black man, devised a liberation plan where Ellen posed as a young white planter plagued with illnesses, while he played the role of her enslaved servant. Together, the couple relied on their intelligence and faith as they left Georgia in December of 1848, arriving in Philadelphia a few days later. The Crafts wrote of their escape from slavery in their autobiography, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, published in 1860.

Historic map of Philadelphia

Map of Philadelphia’s Free African American Households, 1790

Illustration of Ellen Craft

Ellen Craft Disguised as a White Man

An Ingenious Plan

Illustration of Ellen Craft

Ellen Craft Disguised as a White Man

Born in 1824, William, a skilled cabinetmaker, had witnessed his own family being torn apart on the auction block at the age of 16. Ellen, born in 1826, was sent to Georgia as a wedding gift in 1837. The two eventually met and married, but they lamented having children under slavery. William conceived of an escape plan, but it depended entirely on Ellen’s ability to pass across race, gender, and class lines. They foresaw that this meant more than resting on Ellen’s complexion alone. Her arm was put in a sling to avoid having to forge signatures, and her face was bandaged to limit how often she had to speak. She even feigned deafness to avoid suspicion. As they travelled by train and steamer, there were numerous instances where they could have been discovered and recaptured. Nonetheless, the Crafts prevailed and arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Day, 1848.

The slightest mistake would clip asunder the last brittle thread of hope by which we were suspended, and let us down for ever into the dark and horrible pit of misery and degradation from which we were straining every nerve to escape.

William and Ellen Craft, "Running A Thousand Miles for Freedom; or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery", 1860

Image of broadside that reads "No slavery!"

Broadside for an Antislavery Rally in Boston, 1854

A Lasting Legacy

Image of broadside that reads "No slavery!"

Broadside for an Antislavery Rally in Boston, 1854

After resting in Philadelphia, the Crafts continued to Boston. The city’s robust free Black community and abolitionist network made it a sanctuary for newly free fugitives. However, this was threatened by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Soon after, two slave catchers arrived in Boston with a warrant for the Crafts’ arrest. To protect the couple from recapture, Boston abolitionists posted announcements of the slave catchers’ arrival and crowded around their hotel to deter them. Meanwhile, William and Ellen moved throughout the city to avoid the slave catchers. The Crafts decided to move to England to avoid the threat posed by the Fugitive Slave Act, setting out for Liverpool on November 7. While in England, they served as prominent antislavery advocates who occasionally joined fellow fugitive and abolitionist William Wells Brown for public speaking engagements. The couple returned to Georgia in the 1870s to open a school for emancipated Black people.

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An African American Venturer

"Free" Frank McWorter, founded New Philadelphia, Illinois, the first known town to be founded and platted by an African American.

This bronze portrait bust depicts Frank McWorter, formerly enslaved American and founder of New Philadelphia, Illinois. Shown from the chest up, the bust is mounted on a black stone rectangular base with the front protruding slightly at an angle. Frank McWorter wears a coat with a swirling texture incised onto the surface. under the coat is a buttoned waistcoat, shirt, high collar and cravat. He has a mustache and sideburns, and his head is turned slightly to the viewer’s' left. The bust is signed by the artist on the back of the left shoulder.

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The mass suicide by captive Africans at Igbo Landing marks one of the most significant acts of resistance by enslaved people.

Ibo Landing #7 artwork

Enslaved at the White House

Paul Jennings, enslaved by James and Dolly Madison, bought his freedom and published a personal memoir in 1865.

Portrait of Paul Jennings

The First African American Physician

James McCune Smith, the first African American to hold a medical degree, fought against the false scientific claims of Black inferiority.

Black and white illustration of James McCune Smith

Preacher Jarena Lee: Praise in the Meantime

Jarena Lee experienced both the intense religiosity of the late 1700s and discrimination against women as she sought to become a preacher.

The Man Behind Tennessee Whiskey

Nathan “Nearest” Green was the first known Black master distiller and creator of the blueprint behind Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.

An African American Venturer

"Free" Frank McWorter, founded New Philadelphia, Illinois, the first known town to be founded and platted by an African American.

This bronze portrait bust depicts Frank McWorter, formerly enslaved American and founder of New Philadelphia, Illinois. Shown from the chest up, the bust is mounted on a black stone rectangular base with the front protruding slightly at an angle. Frank McWorter wears a coat with a swirling texture incised onto the surface. under the coat is a buttoned waistcoat, shirt, high collar and cravat. He has a mustache and sideburns, and his head is turned slightly to the viewer’s' left. The bust is signed by the artist on the back of the left shoulder.

The Water Spirit Will Take Us Home

The mass suicide by captive Africans at Igbo Landing marks one of the most significant acts of resistance by enslaved people.

Ibo Landing #7 artwork

Enslaved at the White House

Paul Jennings, enslaved by James and Dolly Madison, bought his freedom and published a personal memoir in 1865.

Portrait of Paul Jennings

The First African American Physician

James McCune Smith, the first African American to hold a medical degree, fought against the false scientific claims of Black inferiority.

Black and white illustration of James McCune Smith

Preacher Jarena Lee: Praise in the Meantime

Jarena Lee experienced both the intense religiosity of the late 1700s and discrimination against women as she sought to become a preacher.

The Man Behind Tennessee Whiskey

Nathan “Nearest” Green was the first known Black master distiller and creator of the blueprint behind Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.