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George Washington’s Runaway Slave

Posted on 02/08/2017

Never-Caught-jacket.jpg“Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge”—a new book about the risks one young woman took for freedom—was published yesterday.  Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Distinguished Blue and Gold Professor of Black Studies and History at the University of Delaware, explores not only the 22-year-old’s courageous escape from the Philadelphia home of the first First Family but also the subsequent efforts George Washington took over many years to have her recaptured. 

Writing about Dunbar’s new work, Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of “The Hemingses of Monticello,” says, “There is no way to really know the Washingtons without knowing this story.”  In a discussion at a recent Readex-hosted American Library Association event, Prof. Dunbar shared the story of Ona Judge:



As explained above, Prof. Dunbar’s sources include historical newspaper coverage spanning Judge’s escape “from the household of the President of the United States,” as described in a 1796 runaway slave advertisement, to articles such as this 1845 item reprinted in the National Anti-Slavery Standard:

NATIONAL ANTI-SLAVERY STANDARD (New York, New York) 06-19-1845.jpg


To learn more about slaves held at Mount Vernon—as well as Washington’s changing views on slavery—a special exhibit titled “Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon” may be of interest.  For more information about Early American Newspapers, an essential source for understanding the African American experience over three centuries, please contact

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