Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom Analysis

Ellen Smith

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom is autobiographical but concerns only a small portion of two lives. The memoir is narrated in the first-person voice of William Craft, but its authorship is attributed both to William and to his wife, Ellen Craft. The narrative details the life they spent as slaves on a plantation near Macon, Georgia, and at their escape to the North in December of 1848.

The Crafts’ master, Charles Collins, recognized the Crafts as intelligent and capable workers. William was a carpenter, and Ellen was a lady’s maid. Their situation was not as dire as that of many African American slaves, but they had already experienced the breakup of slave families, including their own. As a couple married for two years, they were determined to avoid separation and carefully planned their escape to freedom. Ellen, who was light-skinned, would masquerade as a male slave owner; William would be her slave. Their story reveals the extraordinary dangers they faced and the courage and sagacity with which they managed their situation, but it is more than a harrowing story. They made it also a fierce political document against the theory and practice of slavery.

In accomplishing their escape, Ellen’s is by far the more difficult task. Because it was very unusual for a woman to travel with a male slave, she has to assume the appearance and behavior of a white male for the couple’s ruse to succeed. The Crafts realize that Ellen...

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Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Barrett, Lindon. “Hand-Writing: Legibility and the White Body in Running a Thousand Miles to Freedom.” American Literature 69 (June, 1997): 315-336. Studies the way in which Ellen Craft succeeded by using her nearly white skin and her supposed literacy, promoted by her ruse of an injury that kept her from writing, to feign the identity of a white traveler.

Blackett, R. J. M. Beating Against the Barriers: The Lives of Six Nineteenth-Century African-Americans. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. Views the Crafts in the context of the subjugation of African Americans generally.

Blackett, R. J. M. “The Odyssey of William and Ellen Craft.” In Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999. Summarizes the Crafts’ lives generally and establishes their rank as abolitionists, educators, and benefactors of blacks in both Africa and the United States.

Ellis, Robert P. Northborough in the Civil War: Citizen Soldiering and Sacrifice. Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2007. Chapter 2 contains accounts of a speech by William Craft from two Massachusetts townspeople who heard it on January 16, 1849. These accounts provide a very early record of the Crafts’ escape and demonstrate the couple’s keen resourcefulness and its appreciation by their audiences.

Heglar, Charles J. Rethinking the Slave Narrative: Slave Marriage and the Narratives of Henry Bibb and William and Ellen Craft. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. Chapter 4 of this book shows how the energies of the Crafts’ marriage promoted their escape from bondage.

Sterling, Dorothy. Black Foremothers. New York: Feminist Press, 1988. Ellen Craft is presented as a woman inspired by the freedom she had gained to serve abolitionism and later promote the education of former slaves.