This book was a page turner; strongly recommended. Was led to it by "Ties that Bound: Founding First Ladies' Slaves," by Marie Jenkins Schwartz, another 2017 book that referred, briefly, to Ona Judge, her escape, and the Washingtons' efforts to retrieve her. Ona didn't belong to George, but was Martha's "dower slave." She was part of the estate of Martha's first husband, and would, at Martha's death, belong to his heirs. If they couldn't retrieve her, they would have to repay her value to that estate. And the Washingtons were broke. He was at the end of his second term, planning to retire. He did not want a scandal as he left the Presidency. Ona had been living with the Washingtons in Philly, the nation's capital at the time, where there were many more free blacks than slaves. She'd seen what freedom looked like and probably knew how to get help. Martha told Ona she was giving her to one of her granddaughters as a wedding present. Ona knew this granddaughter, who was a much more difficult person to work for than Martha. Her new husband had a bad reputation, whereas George had left Ona alone sexually. Ona had plenty of reasons to run, in spite of the danger. I got the impression that after Washington got back to Mt. Vernon, tired and ill, he let it go. It was mostly Martha's fight, and she died not long after he did. The two interviews Ona gave to Abolitionist newspapers shortly before she died led Dunbar to other info on Judge.
A good book, should be more widely read. The author sticks pretty close to known, provable facts, but there were times I wish she would have gone more into historical fiction, to fill in gaps and make the book a little less dry. Also, there's a lot made of how the Washington's pursued her for years and I was looking for what all they did to track her down and there really wasn't much there. Yes, they made efforts for a time and she missed being returned because of her own gut feeling, but the Washington's gave up after a while. The author makes readers feel for her, how she ended up leading a lonely, hard life, but she was free.
Ona Judge weighed the price of freedom against the weight of bondage. There is no picture-perfect ending here, but the fight for her freedom left Judge with her head held high.
A fascinating story and a disconcerting look into what we too often gloss over when we look back at early american history and the 'founding fathers'. Unfortunately the lack of much surviving evidence leads to a lot of conjecture which was much of the time logical and well stated but became overwhelmingly prevalent and somewhat distracting. The most fascinating aspect was the individual states history as concerns abolition.
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