William and Ellen Craft escaped from slavery in Georgia in dramatic fashion in 1847, but their post-escape history was even more compelling. The Crafts became antislavery activists in Boston and expanded their public activities after relocating to London, where Ellen maintained connections between English and American antislavery societies and pursued women’s suffrage while William visited Africa to lobby against the slave trade there. They returned to America after the Civil War and and tried to apply lessons learned in England to creating opportunities for economic freedom and education for former slaves.
Newell's research at the M.H.S., which is at a preliminary stage, focuses on the Crafts’ experiences in Boston. She is interested in the social networks they formed and what these experiences tell us about antislavery, about how activism interacted with class and gender, about political organization and civil rights activism beyond antislavery (including suffrage and educational access), and about the everyday lives of the broader community of free black people. In Boston the Crafts joined a stream of escapees from slavery that included a surprising number of women, children, and family groupings. Like others they lived in housing arranged by anti-slavery advocates, sometimes in the homes of well-known figures such as Theodore Parker but more frequently in the houses of Black abolitionists such as Lewis Hayden. Despite their notoriety on the abolitionist circuit they still had to make a living as working class people in a sometimes hostile city. During their stay, Boston’s Black community challenged school segregation in the courts and organized resistance to bounty hunters, forming and extending the efforts of the League of Freemen and the Boston Vigilance Committee.close