In 1848, the Crafts decided on a plan of escape: Ellen would pose as “Mr. Johnson,” a wealthy plantation owner, traveling with her “slave” (her husband, William). William cut his wife's hair short, and she put on a man's suit, top hat, and dark glasses. Because of her light skin and manly appearance, this disguise was very convincing. Ellen wore a bandage around her face, pretending to have a toothache, and placed her right arm in a sling, since she couldn't write.
Next they boarded a train, but before they could start their journey, William's suspicious employer showed up. Although he failed to recognize Ellen, he probably would have found William if the train had not pulled away just in time. Then Ellen realized that the man sitting next to her was a neighbor who had known her since childhood. He kept trying to start a conversation with the person he thought was a stranger, but she just ignored him, pretending to be deaf.
By the time she and her husband got off the train and boarded a steamboat, Ellen was a nervous wreck. Pretending to have rheumatism, she promptly went to bed until the boat docked in Charleston, NC, where the Crafts spent the night in the city's best hotel.
More close calls followed. On the next train they boarded, while a man pumped William with questions about his “master,” his daughters flirted with the “ailing Mr. Johnson”. Then a lady passenger mistook William for her runaway slave until she took a good look at him and realized he wasn't the one. When the Crafts tried to board another steamer, they were told that “Mr. Johnson” first had to sign their names, but the captain of the steamboat came to their rescue, vouching for them. But the danger wasn't over yet.
When the Crafts tried to board the final train that would take them the rest of the way north, the ticket agent told “Mr. Johnson” to first prove their identities and post a bond. Finally, at the last moment, the agent felt sorry for the “crippled plantation owner” and let them aboard, where they finally crossed the border to the North and freedom. The love they had for each other proved stronger than the hatred of others!