Never Caught

Never Caught

The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

Book - 2017 | First 37 InkAtria Books hardcover edition.
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Finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction

"A fascinating and moving account of a courageous and resourceful woman. Beautifully written and utilizing previously untapped sources it sheds new light both on the father of our country and on the intersections of slavery and freedom." --Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Fiery Trial and Gateway to 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 everything to escape the nation's capital and reach freedom.

When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation's capital. In setting up his household he took Tobias Lear, his celebrated secretary and eight slaves, including Ona Judge, about whom 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, 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.

With impeccable research, 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.
Publisher: New York :, 37 Ink/Atria,, 2017.
Edition: First 37 InkAtria Books hardcover edition.
ISBN: 9781501126390
Characteristics: xvii, 253 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm


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Jun 29, 2019

I have to give Dunbar a lot credit for recreating this story w/ scant recorded evidence. Three cheers for Ona Judge! I think that telling of these stories of enslaved people helps to educate us all of the horrors of slavery. I felt this book was at times redundant. Overall the story was imaginative and gave factual evidence whenever possible. it leaves you wanting to know more details :)

Jul 13, 2018

This hidden history deserved better and was undoubtedly well researched. But where were the editors?? Some episodes began with the summary and ended with the details. Also, The word "breach" was spelled "breech" at least twice. I'm writing this because I'm getting increasingly tired of spelling errors and careless editing.

Sep 02, 2017

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.

Aug 01, 2017

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.

ArapahoeRachel Jul 08, 2017

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.

ArapahoeLesley Apr 11, 2017

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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May 20, 2019

This book was very informative and interesting. It kept me captive from the first page.

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