Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom Critical Essays

Ellen Smith


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In addition to accounts of their constant dangers and of their resourcefulness in eluding them, William’s narrative includes many vignettes that reveal the profound corruption of slave owners. Ellen, for instance, whom other passengers notice being polite to William when he assists her, is lectured by a Southern military officer that if “he” (that is, Ellen) expects to keep his slave in line, he should always “storm at him like thunder.” On another occasion, a woman almost confuses William with her own slave: “I never saw two black pigs more alike than your boy and my Ned,” whom she reckons as “worthless.” Another woman, a widow, complains that her husband set all his slaves free, but she subsequently managed to have the will altered. Her son, “a good Christian minister,” urged her “not to worry and send my soul to hell for the sake of niggers” but to sell them all for “what they would fetch,” which she has already arranged to do. The narrative also depicts William’s interactions with slaves he meets on the journey. “Your massa is a big bug,” one of them offers admiringly. “Yes, he is some pumpkins,” Craft replies.

The Crafts were illiterate when they made their escape, but their intelligence and wit shone through even at that time. In one of his earliest abolitionist speeches (not in the book), after responding affirmatively to a listener’s question as to whether he had been well-treated by his Georgia master, Craft answered the further question of why he had then run away, “My place is vacant, and you can have it if you wish.”

By 1860, William Craft had acquired an education and considerable writing skill. The narrative cites Thomas Campbell, John Bunyan, and James Russell Lowell, and it interjects verses that are apparently of Craft’s own composition. He closes his account by affirming that England knows well of the meanness and cruelty of Americans towards slaves—a knowledge that he himself did much to convey—and warns that “red flashes” may emerge from “pent-up wrath.”