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Sunday, July 28, 2019

NEVER CAUGHT: THE WASHINGTONS' RELENTLESS PURSUIT of THEIR RUNAWAY SLAVE, ONA JUDGE (audiobook) by Erica Armstrong Dunbar



Published in 2017 by Simon and Schuster Audio.
Read by Robin Miles.
Duration: 6 hours, 45 minutes.

Unabridged.

The notice put out just after the escape of Ona Judge. Note that
George Washington kept his name out of the notice for
political reasons. He was well aware of the irony of  the
man who led the fight for America's freedom hunting down
a slave who escaped for her personal freedom.
Ona (Oney) Judge was Martha Washington's personal body servant - the person that brushed her hair, sewed her clothing and generally made sure she was taken care of as she went through her day.

The Washingtons were living in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of government for the fledgling United States while Washington, D.C. was being designed and laid out. The problem with Philadelphia (for the Washingtons) is that it was in the middle of a change. Pennsylvania had been a slave state, but it was becoming a free state. In fact, Pennsylvania was taking the first steps towards becoming an abolitionist stronghold. Technically, the Washingtons could keep their slaves, but after six continuous months of residence in Philadelphia they were technically allowed to start the process to become free people.

George Washington and his lawyers worked out a rotation schedule so that none of his slaves would reside in Pennsylvania for no more than six months at a time. But, Ona Judge had learned a lot about freedom in Philadelphia because there were so many free African Americans that she would have interacted with. And, she became aware of the nascent beginnings of an Underground Railroad.

When Ona learned that she would be given away to Martha Washington's granddaughter as a wedding present, she decided it was time to escape. And, the President of the United States decided that he had to bring her back...

This is a true story, but for most people it is an unknown one.  I know that I just learned about Ona Judge a little more than a year ago. It is ironic to have the first President of the United States searching for a person that just wants to have her freedom.

The book's primary fault is one that would be hard to overcome, no matter the author. There is just not a lot of source material on Ona Judge. To fill in the blanks, the author paints a picture of what her life (and the lives of all so-called "house slaves" of the time) must have been like, including detailed descriptions of the type of work she must have done as a slave and as a free woman. But, too many sentences start with phrases like "probably", "must have", "could have" as the author discusses possible thoughts, feelings and reactions to the events of her life. It is a powerful book, but it is not always authoritative.

Still, I gladly recommend this book. I rate it 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: NEVER CAUGHT: THE WASHINGTONS' RELENTLESS PURSUIT of THEIR RUNAWAY SLAVE, ONA JUDGE.

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