A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

A Clever Disguise


On 21 December 1848, Ellen Craft and her husband, William, board a train in Macon, Georgia. Their trip, which is surely an ordinary voyage for most men and women, is an extraordinary feat for the Crafts. Both Ellen and William are slaves, traveling in disguise toward freedom in the North. Their harrowing journey takes them through Savannah and Charleston and brings them into contact with numerous individuals who could thwart their plans for escape at any moment.


Engraving of Ellen Craft Selection from the Massachusetts Historical Society: "Ellen Craft." Engraving by J. Andrews & S. A. Schoff, from a daguerreotype by Hales. 
Selection from the Library of Congress: Nina Moore Tiffany, "Stories of the Fugitive Slaves. I. The Escape of William and Ellen Craft." The New England Magazine Volume 7 Issue 5 (January 1890), pages 524-531.

Questions to Consider


  1. Describe Ellen's appearance in the engraving. What is she wearing? How would you describe the color of her skin? Was she injured? Why is she wearing a sling? (What practical purpose might it serve?)
  2. How did the Crafts "escape" from Georgia?


  1. Why would Ellen need to disguise her appearance in order to travel? Did William disguise himself for the journey? Why or why not?
  2. What challenges did William and Ellen face while they lived in Boston? How did they overcome these challenges? Did they have help from other Bostonians?


  1. Why would Ellen Craft choose to be depicted in this particular outfit?
  2. Who was Nina Moore Tiffany? What other historical figures did she write about?
  3. When was "The Escape of William and Ellen Craft" published in The New England Magazine? Why might stories about fugitive slaves have been published at this point in the nineteenth century?


  1. Who (what audience) was most likely to see this engraving of Ellen Craft in this disguise?
  2. How did William and Ellen Craft share the story of their escape from Georgia in the years before the Civil War?


  1. Compare the image of Ellen Craft presented in the photograph with Tiffany’s depiction of Craft in "The Escape of William and Ellen Craft." How are these representations similar or different?