William and Ellen Craft

View by Horace Seldon

While reading some of the last entries in the Liberator, an exchange of letters regarding Ellen Craft, piqued my attention and became the reason for inquiry.  In the August 4, 1865, Liberator the record leaves some questions begging an answer. The reference is to a letter to Garrison from Major General James Wilson.  The General’s letter indicated that Maria Smith, the mother of Ellen Craft, was then living with colored friends close to his headquarters, in Macon, Georgia. Wilson had shown her a letter Garrison wrote to her.  She was delighted to hear from Ellen, and was hopeful of raising travel expenses so that she might join Ellen in England.

Knowing that Garrison had stayed in touch with the Crafts over the years, I came to the following conclusions, based on this small bit of information in the letter:

a.   It is clear that there was a letter from Garrison to Ellen’s mother.

b.    Garrison contacted the General, sure that he would be likely to find Mrs. Smith, and deliver the letter to her.

c.       It sounds as if Mrs. Smith had not known, until this letter, where Ellen was, so Garrison’s letter must have included that information, or, does the phrase, “hear from Ellen”, mean that there was an actual letter from Ellen included?

d.    Clearly there was communication from Ellen to Garrison, presumably asking him to help her to contact her mother.

This item in the Liberator is an indication of a significant role Garrison played as Ellen’s  friend.  In this particular case, it is clear that Ellen wrote to Garrison. Knowing that Union troops were still occupying Georgia, Garrison then wrote to the General. The General contacted Mrs. Smith, and completed a connection between mother and daughter.

What an insight into part of the character of “my man” Lloyd Garrison! Clearly he was a loyal friend to Ellen, eager to respond to her request to contact her mother. Reading the cited letter sent me back into my records to see what other notes I could find in the Liberator relative to Garrison and the Crafts.

I find that in the liberatorfiles.com items I selected from the Liberator include eight times other than this last one, when Garrison followed the route of the Crafts from slavery to freedom.

In 1849 Garrison told of the escape of the Crafts, brought to his attention by William Wells Brown.  In a letter Brown told Garrison of the Crafts escape, and that they were safe in Philadelphia, and were already scheduled to give four lectures.

Quickly after this the Liberator included accounts of the appearances of the Crafts in Kingston and New Bedford.  There followed an account of a public greeting of the Crafts at a meeting at Tremont Temple, Boston, where Garrison made the introductory remarks of the evening, and William Wells Brown and Wendell Phillips spoke.

The 1950 failed attempt to capture the Crafts in Boston was given attention in the Liberator.  In one account the editor included a description of the attempt as it appeared in the Georgia Constitutionalist. The readers of the Liberator would have been much interested to read an account of the attempt from the slaveholder agents themselves! The two pursuers were Willis Hughes, and John Knight, from Macon, Georgia, and here in the Liberator was their own story, from a slaveholding source! Try reading this from the point of view of a member of the Boston vigilance committee!

Writing obviously for slaveholders and friends,  Hughes recounted the ways in various officials in Boston avoided assisting him by delays, postponements, jurisdictional disputes, and even one time when he said he was arrested for slandering Ellen, and held to bail for $20,000!  Writing for the Constitutionalist, he called for every “man who has a Southern heart in his bosom” to renew a call to sustain the “Southern right cause”.  Reported in this way, the item is a first-hand testimony to the determination of slaveholders, and also clearly a call to Boston antislavery “hearts” to resist the Fugitive Slave Law and the whole slaveholding enterprise.

The next item in the Liberator informed readers that the Crafts were free in England,, having arrived in Liverpool.  Here one wonders if Garrison’s friend and Liberator agent, James Cropper, in Liverpool, might have housed the Crafts ??? The question is not answered. The good news of their safety in England provided the editor a chance to quote President Fillmore’s stated intention to use the “whole force of the Union” to recover the Crafts.  Garrison mocked the despised President: “…what a spectacle for the world!  The Chief Magistrate of a great country threatening to use all of its resources to kidnap a poor, defenseless woman, and carry her off to slavery!   O could degradation further go?”

A few months after the Crafts arrived in England, the Liberator, carried an item from the London Morning Advertiser telling that the Crafts were teaching in the Ockham Schools, which had been established by Garrison’s friend, Lady Byron.

In 1855, long after Anthony Burns had been taken from Boston into slavery, there was in the Liberator an item about a letter from William Craft.  He had written to Garrison, expressing his feelings about the fact that federal troops had to be used to take Burns out of Boston.  Craft was duly impressed that the only way they could take Burns away was to use federal military force!  It provided Lloyd a chance to say that he believed the slave law “would soon become a dead letter, if every fugitive would resolve to remain free, or return to slavery only in his coffin.”

Add to this the last contact in 1865, which began this inquiry, and here is evidence of the consistent commitment of Garrison to this self-emancipated couple whom he had come to know and admire.  The Craft story is rooted in the “fire” of slavery; it meets in Garrison the “fire” of his determination to abolish slavery oppression.

Sources to explore: The Liberator items cited above all to be found at theliberatorfiles.com, under the category of the Crafts. The story of the Crafts remarkable escape can be read in Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, available in numerous collections of slave narratives.