“There are books that can take over your life: Try as you might, you can’t seem to escape their mysterious power. That’s the feeling I had when reading the tour de force, Never Caught.”"[Dunbar] sketches an evocative portrait of [Ona's] daily life, both before and after her risky escape. For the reader, as for Judge, George Washington the Founding Father takes a back seat to George Washington the slave master."Dunbar weaves an unforgettable story about a courageous woman willing to risk everything for freedom.""Erica Armstrong Dunbar combines the known facts of Ona’s life in service to the Washingtons with vivid descriptions of the physical and emotional conditions early American slaves faced.""Compulsively readible"“A valuable addition to African-American history, Never Caught pays a triple dividend.”“A story of extraordinary grit.”Never Caught is a gripping story of courage of a black slave woman who sacrificed many things including her family to gain freedom. Never Caught shows freedom is more important than anything else. What makes Never Caught uniquely interesting and important is that this is one of the rare narratives from a black woman slave. It also shines light on the dark corners of American history and the first Family, the Washingtons.“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 in the flawed republic he helped to found.”
"Totally engrossing and absolutely necessary for understanding the birth of the American Republic, Never Caught is richly human history from the vantage point of the enslaved fifth of the early American population. Here is Ona Judge’s (successful) quest for freedom, on one side, and, on the other, George and Martha Washington’s (vain) use of federal power to try to keep her enslaved.”"Dunbar has teased out Ona Judge from the shadows of history and given us a determined woman who rejected life as a slave in the comfortable household of George Washington for the risks of freedom . We see Washington a man torn by conflicting sentiments about slavery in a new and ambiguous light, and plunge with Judge into the teeming cities of the young republic, where for the first time Americans are beginning to grapple with the contradiction between the Founders' ideals and the unyielding fact of slavery. No one who reads this book will think quite the same way about George and Martha Washington again.""Never Caught is the compelling story of Ona Judge Staines, the woman who successfully defied George and Martha Washington in order to live as free woman. With vivid prose and deep sympathy, Dunbar paints a portrait of woman whose life reveals the contradictions at the heart of the American founding: men like Washington fought for liberty for themselves even as they kept people like Ona Staines in bondage. There is no way to really know the Washingtons without knowing this story.""Dunbar brings to life the forgotten story of a woman who fled enslavement from America’s First Family. Her mostly Northern story is a powerful reminder that the tentacles of slavery could reach from the South, all the way to the state of New Hampshire. The surprising part of this true history is not that she achieved her freedom, but the lengths to which George and Martha Washington would go to try to recapture a young woman who insulted them by rejecting bondage."“In this riveting and thoroughly researched account of the life of Ona Judge Staines, historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar carefully and compellingly constructs enslaved life inside The President's House and in the larger urban and rural communities of the time. A true page-turner, readers will come away with a deeper appreciation of enslaved people’s lives and a disturbing portrait of George and Martha Washington as slave owners. This book will change the way we study the history of slavery in the U.S, the history of American Presidents, and especially the burgeoning field of black women’s history.”“With the production of the Tony-award winning play, Hamilton, many Americans have been reminded of the noble actions of the nation’s fathers and mothers in birthing a new country founded on democracy, liberty, and freedom. In Never Caught historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar pulls back the curtain on their individual actions by focusing on Ona Judge, an enslaved woman owned by Martha and George Washington, who stole herself to freedom and refused to be reenslaved. Piecing together the fragments of a life, in vivid prose, Dunbar reminds us of the tremendous toll slavery visited on men and women of conscience and conviction, both black and white. This is a must read for anyone interested in this nation’s long pursuit of perfecting freedom.”"A startling, well-researched . . . narrative that seriously questions the intentions of our first president.""With the story of Ona Judge, Erica Armstrong Dunbar brings to life the forgotten story of a woman who fled enslavement from America’s First Family. Her mostly Northern story is a powerful reminder that the tentacles of slavery could reach from the South, all the way to the state of New Hampshire. The surprising part of this true history is not that she achieved her freedom, but the lengths to which George and Martha Washington would go to try to recapture a young woman who insulted them by rejecting bondage."01/01/2017
Judge, a 22-year-old enslaved woman owned by George Washington, escaped in 1796 from the president's temporary home in Philadelphia, then the seat of the new American government, to freedom in New England. (LJ 12/16)2016-11-23
The story of a favored slave of the Washingtons who had the "impudence" to flee a life of benevolent servitude.A runaway slave who happened to be among the household of the first president of the United States, Ona Judge Staines (1773-1848) shared her break for freedom nearly 50 years after the fact in an account in the May 1845 issue of the Granite Freeman. Dunbar (Black Studies and History/Univ. of Delaware; A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City, 2008) unearthed an advertisement for the runaway slave and became determined to tell her story—and she tells it well. A "dower" slave—i.e., she was the property of Martha Washington's first husband, Daniel Parke Custis—Ona was born in Mount Vernon, the product of a favored house seamstress, Betty, and a white indentured servant, Andrew Judge. At age 15, Ona, slender, fair of complexion, and a good seamstress, was chosen among the few household slaves out of hundreds to make the trek to the temporary capital of New York City, where Washington had just been sworn in as the new president of the nascent republic. She would mingle with the free blacks of the bustling city, and, later in Philadelphia, when the capital was moved there, she was responsible for over six years for Martha's wardrobe, a role that relieved her of the drudgeries of kitchen and field work. In Philadelphia, there was a growing abolition movement, and when it was decided by the Washingtons that Ona was going to be given as a wedding present to the first lady's objectionable granddaughter, Ona had had enough. On May 21, 1796, she slipped out of the executive mansion in Philadelphia, boarded a transport to New Hampshire (probably with help from the free black community), and started a new life there—but not without being hounded by Washington's slave hunters. A startling, well-researched slave narrative that seriously questions the intentions of our first president.