Issa Review: Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

37 Ink
Published Feb 7th, 2017
253 Pages

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.- Goodreads

I have never heard of Ona before of this book and normally I won’t pick up non-fiction reads (I prefer using reading as an escape not something that can piss me off) but I picked this book up because I have never heard of her.

This book was short read but it packed so much information; not only about Ona but also about her family, the Washington, other slaves and Philadelphia. Let me first start off by saying that I loved the fact that this was a short read and it did not have a lot of unnecessary fluff key word unnecessary i.e. the author describing what Ona was feeling. Yes, some of that is there but the author doesn’t assume everything Ona is feeling but it isn’t used as much as a filler but used to provide some form of insight. The author doesn’t rely on emotions but delivers facts and ask possible questions.

Remember how I mentioned fluff? Well there is a lot of fluff. As informative as this book is it was clear that there wasn’t a whole lot of information available on Ona. Was there a chunk of information that gave you a beginning and a end to her life? Yes, there was; It comes full circle. But with all the other information, it was fluff. For instance, the Washington’s head chef, Hercules, has a a good part within in the novel as well as the history of Philadelphia. Although all of this information completes the book, it was fillers for the lack of full details on Ona.

My biggest issue with this book is yes Ona was never caught but it wasn’t because of her constantly running or them even constantly looking for her. Don’t get me wrong they tried but not exactly where your mind goes.

However, I highly recommend this book because it is a starting point to a bigger conversation and it can lead you to other books not just by this author. For instance. this book led me to The President’s Kitchen Cabinet written by Adrian Miller. Ona’s story isn’t typical by any means but its a piece of history everyone should know about. The woman, the slave strong enough to run away from the first President of the United States. . . that is a huge deal.

Overall, not only a must read but something you should have in your book collection.

5 Pickles

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