05/10/2021London Blue Plaque for Social Justice Campaigners Ellen and William Craft
- Plaque marks mid-Victorian house in Hammersmith where the Crafts lived after making their extraordinary escape from enslavement in the US
- London home used as a base in their campaign for abolition, radical reform and social justice
Ellen and William Craft, African-American freedom fighters who made a daring escape from enslavement in Georgia, USA and fled to Britain in the mid-19th century, have today been commemorated with an English Heritage London blue plaque. The plaque marks 26 Cambridge Grove, a mid-Victorian house in Hammersmith where the Crafts settled and raised their family, using their home as a base to campaign for abolition, radical reform and social justice.
Famed for one of history’s most ingenious escapes from slavery, Ellen and William Craft hatched their plan in December 1848 and made the perilous thousand-mile journey from Georgia to Pennsylvania in their quest for freedom. Ellen Craft was a child of rape (her mother was an enslaved African American who was raped by her white enslaver) and thus could pass as white. She disguised herself as a disabled white man, travelling north for medical treatment, with William posing as her enslaved manservant.
Greeted by abolitionists in Philadelphia, the couple were urged to continue to Massachusetts. However, in 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Bill, forbidding inhabitants of the ‘free states’ from sheltering freedom seekers, and the Crafts’ former enslavers sent agents to abduct them. Fearing kidnap and death, the Crafts travelled to England in December 1850. The Crafts recounted their death-defying four-day trip on anti-slavery lecturing stages on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as in their autobiography Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, published in London in 1860.
Following a short stay in Ockham, Surrey, they eventually settled in Hammersmith, helping to organise the London Emancipation Society whilst also continuing to travel the UK, giving lectures. Ellen also participated in a women’s suffrage organisation and the women’s arm of the British and Foreign Freedmen’s Aid Society.
After the end of the American Civil War and the legal emancipation of enslaved people, the Crafts returned to Boston in August 1869 with three of their children. Funded by donations and investment from British and American abolitionists, in 1873 they set up the Woodville Cooperative Farm School in Bryan County, Georgia, for the children of those who had been emancipated, and regularly suffered racist attacks. Ellen is believed to have died in Georgia in 1891, whilst William died in their daughter’s Charleston home on 28 January 1900, and was buried in the city’s Humane and Friendly Society Cemetery.
Anna Eavis, Curatorial Director at English Heritage, commented:
'Ellen and William Craft’s story is incredibly powerful. Their determination to escape from enslavement in the most perilous circumstances, and then to campaign for abolition and win over hearts and minds here in the UK is astonishing. They lived in Hammersmith during the 1860s, and toured the country lecturing against slavery. They are an important part of the anti-slavery movement and we are delighted to remember them with this plaque.'
Dr Hannah-Rose Murray, historian and proposer of the plaque to the Crafts, said:
'Ellen and William Craft were courageous and heroic freedom fighters whose daring escape from U.S. chattel slavery involved Ellen crossing racial, gender and class lines to perform as a white southern man. If caught, they would have been incarcerated, tortured and almost certainly sold away from each other. Their story inspired audiences on both sides of the Atlantic and when the Crafts reached Britain, they were relentless in their campaigns against slavery, racism, white supremacy, and the Confederate cause during the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865). I'm so excited that English Heritage has built on previous work by historians, archivists and local activists to honour their presence in Hammersmith and the UK in general, and recognise the Crafts' incredible bravery and impact on transatlantic society.'