Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
When George Washington moved to Philadelphia to serve as President, he brought nine enslaved people with him from Mount Vernon. At the time, Pennsylvania stated that after six months of residency, all enslaved people must be set free. Rather than comply, Washington sent his household down to the south every six months, just when freedom was within grasp. Ona Judge couldn't ignore the taste of freedom she had in Pennsylvania, so one day, she escaped to New England. Washington used all of this resources for a manhunt to capture Ona Judge and return her as his property. A well-researched account of a woman who risked everything for freedom.
A startling and eye-opening look into America’s First Family, Never Caught is the powerful narrative of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s runaway slave who risked it all to escape the nation’s capital and reach freedom.
When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital, after a brief stay in New York. In setting up his household he took Tobias Lear, his celebrated secretary, and nine slaves, including Ona Judge, about which little has been written. As he grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t get his arms around: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.
Though Ona Judge lived a life of relative comfort, the few pleasantries she was afforded were nothing compared to freedom, a glimpse of which she encountered first-hand in Philadelphia. So, when the opportunity presented itself one clear and pleasant spring day in Philadelphia, Judge left everything she knew to escape to New England. Yet freedom would not come without its costs.
At just twenty-two-years-old, Ona became the subject of an intense manhunt led by George Washington, who used his political and personal contacts to recapture his property.
Impeccably researched, historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar weaves a powerful tale and offers fascinating new scholarship on how one young woman risked it all to gain freedom from the famous founding father.