The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom

By: Emily Arnold McCully
Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: 2007
List: Picture Book Biographies of People Who Lived During 1650-1800

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When Mrs. Washington tells ten-year-old Oney Judge that she will be taught to sew alongside her mother in the big house at Mount Vernon, Oney is grateful and works hard. A few years later, General Washington is elected President, and Mrs. Washington chooses Oney to be her personal maid in New York City, the nation's first capital. Oney must leave her mother and everything she has ever known behind.

After a year and a half, the capital is moved to Philadelphia, where the laws are different and not all black people are slaves. Oney meets some free blacks and tries to imagine being free herself, but she depends on the Washingtons for food, for warmth, for clothing—and Mrs. Washington says she is like a child to them. Yet Mrs. Washington won't let her learn to read or earn money by sewing for other people. Then Mrs. Washington tells her that after her death, Oney will be sent to live with Mrs. Washington's granddaughter Eliza and her husband. Oney is horrified. Eliza's husband is likely to sell her to a stranger, the fate Oney dreads more than any other.

One day Oney sees an opportunity to run—and she does. She does not know where she will end up, only that she wants to be free, with no mistress but herself.

From the dust jacket

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