Saturday, February 18, 2023

12:45 PM – 1:40 PM

Trinity United Methodist Church

225 W. President Street, Savannah, GA 31401

Ilyon Woo


In 1848, a year of international democratic revolt, 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 remarkable true story of daring, determination, and disguise soon made them celebrities, and generated headlines around the country.

Americans could not get enough of this charismatic young couple who went on to travel another 1,000 miles crisscrossing New England, drawing thunderous applause as they spoke alongside some of the greatest abolitionist luminaries of the day including Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown. 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. Thus, as slave hunters came up from Georgia, the Crafts were forced to flee once again to save themselves and many others.

With three epic journeys compressed into one monumental bid for freedom, Master Slave Husband Wife is an American love story—one that would challenge the nation’s core precepts of life, liberty, and justice for all—one that challenges us even now.


Ilyon Woo is the author of The Great Divorce: A Nineteenth-Century Mother’s Extraordinary Fight Against Her Husband; The Shakers; and Her Times as well as the recipient of a Whiting Creative Nonfiction Writing Grant. Her articles have appeared in The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal, and she has received support for her research from the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other organizations. She holds a BA in the Humanities from Yale College and a PhD in English from Columbia University.

Photo: (c) Michael Wilson


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