The Underground Railroad eBook

William Still
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 1,446 pages of information about The Underground Railroad.

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A quarter of a century ago, William and Ellen Craft were slaves in the State of Georgia.  With them, as with thousands of others, the desire to be free was very strong.  For this jewel they were willing to make any sacrifice, or to endure any amount of suffering.  In this state of mind they commenced planning.  After thinking of various ways that might be tried, it occurred to William and Ellen, that one might act the part of master and the other the part of servant.

Ellen being fair enough to pass for white, of necessity would have to be transformed into a young planter for the time being.  All that was needed, however, to make this important change was that she should be dressed elegantly in a fashionable suit of male attire, and have her hair cut in the style usually worn by young planters.  Her profusion of dark hair offered a fine opportunity for the change.  So far this plan looked very tempting.  But it occurred to them that Ellen was beardless.  After some mature reflection, they came to the conclusion that this difficulty could be very readily obviated by having the face muffled up as though the young planter was suffering badly with the face or toothache; thus they got rid of this trouble.  Straightway, upon further reflection, several other very serious difficulties stared them in the face.  For instance, in traveling, they knew that they would be under the necessity of stopping repeatedly at hotels, and that the custom of registering would have to be conformed to, unless some very good excuse could be given for not doing so.

[Illustration:  WILLIAM CRAFT]

[Illustration:  ELLEN CRAFT.]

Here they again, thought much over matters, and wisely concluded that the young man had better assume the attitude of a gentleman very much indisposed.  He must have his right arm placed carefully in a sling; that would be a sufficient excuse for not registering, etc.  Then he must be a little lame, with a nice cane in the left hand; he must have large green spectacles over his eyes, and withal he must be very hard of hearing and dependent on his faithful servant (as was no uncommon thing with slave-holders), to look after all his wants.

William was just the man to act this part.  To begin with, he was very “likely-looking;” smart, active and exceedingly attentive to his young master—­indeed he was almost eyes, ears, hands and feet for him.  William knew that this would please the slave-holders.  The young planter would have nothing to do but hold himself subject to his ailments and put on a bold air of superiority; he was not to deign to notice anybody.  If, while traveling, gentlemen, either politely or rudely, should venture to scrape acquaintance with the young planter, in his deafness he was to remain mute; the servant was to explain.  In every instance when this occurred, as it actually did, the servant was fully equal to the emergency—­none dreaming of the disguises in which the Underground Rail Road passengers were traveling.

Project Gutenberg
The Underground Railroad from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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