The story of William and Ellen Craft plays more like a spy thriller than an antebellum tale of slavery.
In 1848, the couple managed to flee Macon and spent four days riding in first-class accommodations on trains and steamers and staying in top-tier hotels, because the mixed-race Ellen Craft was able to pass for a young white male while her husband pretended to be her personal slave.
The ruse worked, and the couple made it to freedom on Christmas Day in Philadelphia.
The couple’s great-great granddaughter, Julia-Ellen Craft Davis, will talk about the remarkable story of her ancestors Thursday from 5-7:30 p.m. at the basement of Steward Chapel AME Church, 887 Forsyth St. as part of the Ruth Hartley Mosley Women’s Center’s celebration of Black History Month.
Davis said she and other members of the family learned the story of the Crafts from her grandmother, having it passed down from generation to generation. In 1969, a book was published that contained the book they wrote in 1860 called “Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom.” Their tale has been told many times since.
Though the Crafts’ lives were fraught with danger for many years until slavery was abolished, Davis said it’s a positive story.
“I’d like people to see it as a story of love, determination and resilience,” she said. “There are a lot of lessons in their story. In today’s times, there are a lot of barriers for young people. But no matter what you face, you just have to not give up. ... It’s a great story.”
The Crafts were able to pull off their deception despite neither one of them knowing how to read. Ellen Craft ingeniously put a sling on her arm to convince hotel staff that she was unable to write in order to avoid signing papers.
Once the Crafts arrived in Philadelphia, they made connections with the Underground Railroad. When word got out about their story, abolitionists told the couple that Philadelphia was still too close to the South and that they weren’t safe there.
The Crafts moved to Boston, but left for England in 1850 after the Fugitive Slave Law was passed. They stayed in Liverpool for the next 18 years before returning to America in 1868, moving near Savannah. The Crafts eventually died in Charleston, South Carolina, years later.
Davis’ lecture is the second in a series of three lectures that are free and open to the public. The lecture series will conclude Feb. 19, when Marie Jones will give a talk called “The Extraordinary Story of Macon’s Colored Methodists” from 5-7:30 p.m. at the Ruth Hartley Mosley Center, 626 Spring St.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.