Love, Liberation, and Escaping Slavery
William and Ellen Craft in Cultural Memory

Barbara McCaskill

How William and Ellen Craft’s escape from slavery, their activism, and press accounts figured during the antislavery movement of the mid-1800s and Reconstruction


“Barbara McCaskill’s new book should be read by everyone interested in the spectacular story of the self-emancipating Crafts—one of antebellum America’s most compelling stories of bondage and of memory. McCaskill brilliantly builds on her edition of the Crafts’ Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom with new details gleaned from meticulous research. Love, Liberation, and Escaping Slavery illuminates McCaskill’s exemplary archival excavations into the lives of Ellen, William, their community of renowned formerly enslaved authors and activists, the whites who obstructed their life’s journeys and those who helped clear their paths, and ultimately, the Crafts’ outstanding progeny.”
—Joycelyn Moody, Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio

“Barbara McCaskill demonstrates that the Crafts’ life and famous story reveal a great deal about how transatlantic literature, culture, and history have been managed and misrepresented over the years. This valuable and revealing history is the go-to study for anyone interested in the Crafts.”
—John Ernest, author of A Nation within a Nation: Organizing African-American Communities before the Civil War

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The spectacular 1848 escape of William and Ellen Craft (1824–1900; 1826–1891) from slavery in Macon, Georgia, is a dramatic story in the annals of American history. Ellen, who could pass for white, disguised herself as a gentleman slaveholder; William accompanied her as his “master’s” devoted slave valet; both traveled openly by train, steamship, and carriage to arrive in free Philadelphia on Christmas Day. In Love, Liberation, and Escaping Slavery, Barbara McCaskill revisits this dual escape and examines the collaborations and partnerships that characterized the Crafts’ activism for the next thirty years: in Boston, where they were on the run again after the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law; in England; and in Reconstruction-era Georgia. McCaskill also provides a close reading of the Crafts’ only book, their memoir, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, published in 1860.

Yet as this study of key moments in the Crafts’ public lives argues, the early print archive—newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, legal documents—fills gaps in their story by providing insight into how they navigated the challenges of freedom as reformers and educators, and it discloses the transatlantic British and American audiences’ changing reactions to them. By discussing such events as the 1878 court case that placed William’s character and reputation on trial, this book also invites readers to reconsider the Crafts’ triumphal story as one that is messy, unresolved, and bittersweet. An important episode in African American literature, history, and culture, this will be essential reading for teachers and students of the slave narrative genre and the transatlantic antislavery movement and for researchers investigating early American print culture.

A Sarah Mills Hodge Fund Publication

Page count: 136
8 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9

Read more about William and Ellen Craft (1824-1900; 1826-1891) at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.


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Barbara McCaskill is a professor of English and codirector of the Civil Rights Digital Library at the University of Georgia.