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Lives of the slavery in 1860s: the book i chose: “Running a thousand Miles for freedom”

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21 November 2015
Lives of Slavery in the 1860s
The slavery of African Americans in the United States began in the 1600s (Craft, 1969). The laws at that time were clear on the difference between the white and black indentured servants. The white ones were to serve for a reasonable period while the blacks were to serve for life. The slavery system all came to an end in the 1860s following a series of events (Craft, 1969). It all began with the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States. He enacted two acts that led to the eventual freedom of both the black and white slaves. The first act was the Emancipation Proclamation, which only gave freedom to the slave on the North (Craft, 1969). The other act, the Thirteenth Amendment was the one that finally helped free all slaves. This paper looks into the various historical aspects of the 1860s that impacted on the lives of two slaves, William and Ellen Craft, and their families as captured in the book Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom.
William and Ellen Craft were both born and raised in slavery in Georgia. Ellen was fathered by a white slave owner and a black slave mother (Craft, 1969). Ellen had a striking resemblance to her father and could easily be mistaken for a white. William, on the other hand, was purely black with a dark complexion. Williams master allowed and organized for him to learn carpentry from a local cabinet maker in the area they lived in. In 1848, the couple escaped from Georgia to Boston where they received some aid from slave abolitionists (Craft, 1969).

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The abolitionists helped them evade recapture as enshrined in the fugitive slave laws of 1850 (Craft, 1969).
In his book, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom, Craft (1969) recalls the conditions under which he and his wife escaped from slavery. His account of events borders around incidents that bring out the ills of slavery. The ills here include the inhumane nature of slaveholders, children being stolen and sold into slavery and other atrocities. Craft narrates tales of cruelty to show that “he who has the power, is inhuman enough to trample upon the rights of the weak, cares nothing for race and color.” With this ideology, Craft (1969) tries to bring out slavery as a sadistic act and not an act of racial prejudice. To shed more light to this ideology, Craft recounts the tale of Salome, a German girl who was traded into slavery. Salome y after her found herself in slavery in New Orleans following the death of her father that left her and her sibling orphaned (Craft, 1969). This goes to show us how difficult life was for the weak in a society full of slave traders.
Throughout his book, William Craft quotes various laws that the Southerners used to justify their reasons for wanting to keep slavery alive and legal. His quotes also shed some light on the reason as to why he was so eager to flee to the north even though he and his wife had never gone through the extreme abuses of life on the plantations. The election of Abraham Lincoln as the president of the United States in 1860 was one of the reasons why William and Ellen Craft, as well as other slaves, were interested in going north (Jacobs, 2015). Abraham Lincoln despised slavery and had every intention to try and stop slave trade (Jacobs, 2015). The Southerners did not like this; consequently, they decide to secede from the North (Jacobs, 2015). They then formed the Confederate States of America. The newly formed state tried to justify their secession by claiming that it was a way to protect their sovereignty.
Further down the book, Craft (1996) recounts how she strived to ensure she did not give birth to any slave while still a slave. Her reason was that she could not stomach the thought of her child being forcefully taken away from her and being sold off as a slave. Forceful separation of children and parents was a norm in those days. With that commitment and the desire to have a child at a prime age in mind, Ellen was constantly motivated to try and escape. In his book, Craft (1996) tells us of the struggles they went through while trying to think of a master escape plan. When they finally thought of an excellent plan, Ellen’s fear started taking the better of her. She was wondering how they would manage to pull off the escape without being caught by the brutal white slave owners. The plan was hatched based on the knowledge that slave owners were accorded the privilege to carry their slaves along with them to any part of the country they wanted to go. Suddenly occurred to William Craft that her wife was almost white (Craft, 1996). He then thought of helping his wife disguise herself as a white slave owner and him as ‘his’ slave. The two thought out everything carefully and started collecting the materials they would need for their escape. A night before the grand escape, Ellen was so scared that she burst into tears. The reflection on the pathetic lives they led as slaves in Georgia is what kept her going.
The two then went and asked for permission from their master before they silently escaped on a train. Before the train even left, the cabinet maker who William used to work with went in to check whether William could be in there. This just goes to show the level of mistrust that existed between the white slave owners and their slaves. Fortunately, the cabinet maker did not find William and the journey to the North began. While on the train, from Craft (1996), one could immediately tell the split opinions on slavery that had started to emerge within the country. Most of the Northerners stood for the abolition of the slave trade while most of the Southerners wanted the trade to remain legal. This difference sharpened when the Southern states decided to detach themselves from the union of the North and south and form a new state (Craft, 1996). The difference in he made opinions led to a civil war that directly and indirectly helped a lot of slaves to escape. Some of the anti-abolitionists tried to convince Ellen not to take her slave to the North. The abolitionists on the other side were busy trying to let William in on the possibility of escaping once he reached the North (Craft, 1996). They even gave him addresses of places where he could find other abolitionists after he made his escape. All this while Ellen has her hand and part of her face covered with a poultice to avoid writing because she did not know how to write. This bit brings forth another aspect of the life of slavery in the 1860s; lack of education. They arrived and sought for the help from the addresses William was given on the train. They then moved to England and returned to America after the civil war came to an end.
To conclude, the life of slavery in the 1860s was one marred with a lot of twists. In the start of this period, slavery was at its peak in the South (Jacobs, 2015). The whites were so harsh yet so powerful that the slaves dreaded the thought of rebelling against them. But when the Southern states decided to secede, they lost part of their clout (Jacobs, 2015). By forming a new state, the Southerners made themselves a very formidable enemy in the North. The slaves then saw the opportunity to get back at their brutal owners from the south. In the course of the war, they refused to help their masters in the war by making them food or doing their laundry (Jacobs, 2015). Some even gave off information to the northern soldiers and used the confusion to escape. It was indeed a turning point decade for the slaves in America.
Craft, W. (1969). Running a thousand miles for freedom or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from slavery. New York: Arno.

Jacobs, H. (2015). Incidents in the life of a slave girl an autobiographical account of an escaped slave and abolitionist. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.

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