August 30, 2023
Contact: Lee Blake
Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom
In commemoration of International Underground Railroad Month in September, The New Bedford Historical Society is holding a reading with author Ilyon Woo author of Master Slave Husband Wife on Monday, September 18 at 6:30 at Gallery X.
Master Slave Husband Wife is the remarkable true story of Ellen and William Craft, who escaped slavery through daring, determination, and disguise, with Ellen passing as a wealthy, disabled White man and William posing as “his” slave. The Crafts followed the Underground Railroad to freedom.
In 1848, a young, enslaved couple, Ellen and William Craft, achieved one of the boldest feats of self-emancipation in American history. Posing as master and slave, while sustained by their love as husband and wife, they made their escape together across more than 1,000 miles, riding out in the open on steamboats, carriages, and trains that took them from bondage in Georgia to the free states of the North.
Along the way, they dodged slave traders, military officers, and even friends of their enslavers, who might have revealed their true identities. The tale of their adventure soon made them celebrities, and generated headlines around the country. Americans could not get enough of this charismatic young couple, who traveled another 1,000 miles criss-crossing New England, drawing thunderous applause as they spoke alongside some of the greatest abolitionist luminaries of the day—among them Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown. The Crafts visited Nathan and Polly Johnson in New Bedford and their courage was celebrated by the New Bedford abolitionists.
But even then, they were not out of danger. With the passage of an infamous new Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, all Americans became accountable for returning refugees like the Crafts to slavery. Then yet another adventure began, as slave hunters came up from Georgia, forcing the Crafts to flee once again—this time from the United States, their lives and thousands more on the line and the stakes never higher.
Share this incredible story of the Crafts and their journey to freedom. “In this beautifully written and deeply researched book, Ilyon Woo has brought to life one of the most remarkable instances of a fugitive slave escape. In narrating the fantastic story of William and Ellen Craft’s revolt against slavery, she has given us an entre into the exciting yet dangerous world of transatlantic abolitionism and its daring assault on slavery’s regime of terror.” — Manisha Sinha, author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition
“For those of us who already were familiar with Ellen and William Craft, we’re so grateful for this reconsideration of this courageous couple’s story. Ilyon Woo has accomplished a phenomenal feat, presenting previously unpublished archival excavations. Certainly, this is an essential addition to early African American studies—but more than research, Woo offers the Crafts’ travels with such grace, such tenderness. Here is a necessary rendering of Black love, Black resilience, and Black humanity during one of our nation’s most fraught times.” — Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, author of The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
Ilyon Woo is the New York Times bestselling author of Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom and The Great Divorce: A Nineteenth-Century Mother’s Extraordinary Fight Against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and The New York Times, and she has received support for her research from the Whiting Foundation, and National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Antiquarian Society, among other institutions.
Books will be available with an opportunity for Ms. Woo’s signature.
For additional information contact the New Bedford Historical Society at 508-979-8828 or by email at email@example.com