Ellen Craft, who was born into slavery, successfully escaped alongside her husband while in disguise. Her appearance during her 1848 escape is portrayed in an 1860 engraving.

This woman escaped slavery by hiding in plain sight—disguised as a white man

Ellen Craft's light skin allowed her to pose as her husband's enslaver when the two made their daring escape—in broad daylight—from Georgia to freedom in 1848.

Ellen Craft, who was born into slavery, successfully escaped alongside her husband while in disguise. Her appearance during her 1848 escape is portrayed in an 1860 engraving.
Mary Evans/ACI

In the 1800s many enslaved people in the United States, especially those who lived in the Deep South, made valiant efforts to escape to freedom in the north. Many of the most well-known stories, like that of Harriet Tub- man and the people she helped ferry along the Underground Railroad, took place under the cover of darkness to avoid slave patrols and other local authorities, but Ellen Craft and her husband, William, took a different approach. Their daring escape took place in the broad light of day.

(Explore the Underground Railroad’s ‘great central depot’.)

Ellen Craft was born in 1826 in Clinton, Georgia. Her father, Col. James Smith, was a white man and her first enslaver. Her mother, Maria, an African American woman, was also owned by Smith. Ellen was fair-skinned and resembled Smith and the children of his marriage, so much so that people frequently mistook her for one of them. 

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