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Double Deception
July 1, 2010 1:38 PM   Subscribe

The Great Escape From Slavery of Ellen and William Craft (single link Smithsonian magazine) She dressed as a man, and he posed as her slave. And it worked.
posted by bearwife (23 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is pretty bloody impressive. However:

Georgia law prohibited teaching slaves to read or write

I'm from the south and I didn't know this. It's tough, constantly learning the little ways humans have come up with to disfigure the spirit.
posted by Mooski at 1:52 PM on July 1, 2010


I'm simultaneously humbled by their bravery and enraged that it was ever necessary.
posted by corey flood at 1:56 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Anti-literacy laws were pretty common in slave states.

Hell of a story. Thanks.
posted by rtha at 2:09 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


What an awesome story! Those two had real guts. Thanks for posting this.

I'm simultaneously humbled by their bravery and enraged that it was ever necessary.

I can't agree more corey flood.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:12 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the comments: "Why can't Hollywood make some of these stories up instead of the trash they currently produce?"

Agreed.

Here's an online copy of the book William Craft published in 1860, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 2:16 PM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


Today I learned the word "quadroon".
posted by Fleebnork at 2:36 PM on July 1, 2010


Great story. Another good one is the narrative of Henry "Box" Brown, who paid to have himself shipped in a crate from Virginia to freedom in Philadelphia, PA.
posted by marxchivist at 2:47 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Today I learned the word "quadroon".

One drop laws have led to some pretty insane terminology, altered family trees, etc. Racism is one of the strongest elements of anti-reason in the universe.
posted by yeloson at 2:47 PM on July 1, 2010


Many slaves weren't even allowed to get married, and being married wouldn't keep you from getting sold to separate masters.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:49 PM on July 1, 2010


She dressed as a man

How unnatural! Drapetomania is a hell of a disease.
posted by contraption at 2:58 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


From your link, contraption: The term drapetomania derives from the Greek δραπετης (drapetes, "a runaway [slave]") + μανια (mania, "madness, frenzy")

And now I've learned a new word for the day . . . a really dreadful one.
posted by bearwife at 3:12 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


I grapple a bit trying to understand slavery as it existed in the United States even from the time of the Colonies. I understand that the Irish in the early to mid 1600s were valued less than African slaves because African slaves had to be paid for and the Irish were free for the taking. I understand that in the late 1600s, slavery became more firmly color coded. In the early 1700s, preachers delivered sermons that slaves had souls.
Since so many people were involved in the system, I imagine there was some complexity in master-slave relationships. For example, it is known that children of slaves were fathered by slave owners, but did it ever go the other way where a female of the slave owner's family bore a child fathered by a slave? I understand that slaves in the U.S. did not have rights, but did they have absolutely no rights? When a slave died, was he/she entitled to a burial or could his/ her body be simply discarded? Also, how did a slave in the U.S. fare compared to a slave in Latin America or elsewhere through history?
I agree that the story of Ellen and William Craft would make a good movie. It would have taken some bravery to return to Georgia after the Civil War.
posted by millardsarpy at 3:14 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


did it ever go the other way where a female of the slave owner's family bore a child fathered by a slave?

Given the chastity expected of women of the time period, the consequences of doing this would be dire for the woman and probably lethal for the man. Masters were expected to have sex with slaves- it increased your stock, and slave (and often lower class servant) women were not in a position to resist.

Of course people could and did love their slaves, and a good master would will his slaves freedom on his death, and allow slaves to make money on the side. This also wasn't a case of nefarious evil overlords cackling in doom towers, since it was the prevailing belief among slave owners that the slaves needed guidance. Denying them reading and writing follows logic much like that of modern Islamic fundamentalists in places like Afghanistan, who feel that the salvation and happiness of women will be harmed if they're literate.
posted by Phalene at 3:54 PM on July 1, 2010


Also, how did a slave in the U.S. fare compared to a slave in Latin America or elsewhere through history?

I believe at least in Brazil, the slaves were often worked to death and a continual supply was often needed. Slaves in the U.S. tended to live out their natural lives and physically did OK in the North American climate. This, coupled with the fact the slaves established family relationships and had children was actually used as an argument that slavery in the U.S. was good for the blacks. You see the word "fecund" used a lot in the literature of the times to describe slaves. Obviously it was a horrible institution and a terrible situation to be in, but if you were an African slave you were better off in North America than South America. A slightly different degree of horror.

I understand that slaves in the U.S. did not have rights, but did they have absolutely no rights?

In general, slaves could not testify against white people in court, which effectively means they didn't have any rights. There are cases of masters being taken to court (and convicted) for killing or abusing slaves. The motivation for that varied, a lot of it was the ruling white society didn't want people running amok and killing and torturing their slaves openly. If the slaves have nothing to lose, they were more likely to rise up.

This is one of the fascinating things about studying slavery as a historian. It is full of contradictions. On one hand you had slaves with no rights, but there were often trials in the South when slaves murdered a white person or they suspected there were plans for an insurrection. Not the fairest trials, but the slaves did get acquitted from time to time. Slaves were supposed to be merely property, but here you have the same people who argued that giving them trials. It was illegal for slaves to marry, but masters often encouraged the institution (a slave with a wife and kids to take care of was probably less apt to run off or cause trouble).

A lot of it is not logical, but it is kind of hard to be logical and justify keeping other human beings in bondage. I could go on for awhile, but I have to be away from the internet for a couple hours. Maybe I'll come up with a few book titles before the night is over.
posted by marxchivist at 4:42 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm reading this really interesting and easy-to-read book called, Dred Scott v. Sandford: A Brief History with Documents. Re contradictions -- In Dred Scott's case, the federal appellate court upheld Scott's right to sue in federal court, but also ruled he was a slave.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:54 PM on July 1, 2010


PS I wish the writer had not used the word "quadroon" without quotations or context/explanation -- it's a pretty intense word, and it makes me a bit hesitant to share the piece.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:56 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I understand that in the late 1600s, slavery became more firmly color coded.

Although there's probably an innate xenophobic aspect to racism, it was a social construct in the colonies that became the United States. It helped indentured servants and other poor whites feel superior to slaves instead of resenting how much better off rich whites were. In the early colonial period free black people could own property and some even owned slaves. American Colonies: The Settling of North America has some good info.

In the early 1700s, preachers delivered sermons that slaves had souls.

Sure, but into the 1800s--at least until the Civil War--preachers were also saying that slavery was God's will and several churches split over slavery.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:59 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great story, though
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:59 PM on July 1, 2010


It's funny that they say Ellen "masked" her race. I would say she temporarily changed it.
posted by stammer at 6:32 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It was interesting to find out that this a was true story. The 2003 novel, Property, pretty much lifts this entire tale and uses it as a plot point involving one of the key characters. The fictional escape ultimately doesn't play out the way it did in real life, however. I didn't think much of the book and now I think even less.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:53 PM on July 1, 2010


Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley - West African slave, wife of a slave owner, who herself became a slave owner.
posted by millardsarpy at 8:02 PM on July 1, 2010


did it ever go the other way where a female of the slave owner's family bore a child fathered by a slave?

Generally, the assumption would have been that the slave raped her; he'd be brutally lynched.

(This is not to say that no consensual affairs ever existed between white women and black slaves. But the view of women's sexuality in the United States was extremely conservative, and such an affair would not have been be tolerated.)
posted by desuetude at 8:47 PM on July 1, 2010


Here's an online copy of the book William Craft published in 1860, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom.

You all should read the original writing. Wow, what a tale, what a contrast between the famed southern hospitality that the wife got while she was in disguise, and all the fellow travelers' contempt for 'coloured's. And what a ridiculous set of laws the US had, enslaving so many; this slavery thing isn't a one-off thing was it, it was built into the system's fucking DNA.

Long story short, the slaveowners were legally allowed to do _anything_, even murder their slaves. The slaves had no property of their own, they were legally not expected to have any money, and all non-Whites had to legally prove they were with an owner just to board a fucking train. I just came away with a completely different understanding of American history and civics after reading this.
posted by the cydonian at 7:31 AM on July 2, 2010


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