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The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington’s Runaway Slave

by Ann Rinaldi

Age Range: 12 & up

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-689-85187-1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Rinaldi (Millicent’s Gift, p. 740, etc.) enlarges upon the story of the real Oney Judge who was Martha Washington’s favorite slave and lived in relative privilege. Her father has escaped, and Oney says, “It was all Patrick Henry’s fault that my daddy left. That’s what my Mama said.” All of that “fancy speechifying in Richmond” planted ideas of liberty in her father, and this is the story of how these ideas slowly grew in his daughter as well. It’s one thing to escape the horrors of slavery, but slavery was not so horrible for Oney. When General Washington became President Washington and lived in New York, Oney lived on the third floor in a cozy room with her own fireplace. The elegant house, overlooking the Hudson River, welcomed such luminaries as Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and Oney met them and felt part of their circle. Her mother has told her to run, but Oney says, “Why would I want to be free, wandering on the howling cold streets, wondering where I would work and live?” Fascinating and well-written, this weaves in much history: the Revolution, George Washington’s conflicted views of slavery, plantation life, life in New York City and Philadelphia, the yellow fever epidemic of 1793, abolitionism, and the free Negro community of Philadelphia. It opens with a fine premise: Oney’s narration of her story to a reporter for the famous abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator. What follows is an exploration of the will toward freedom, even for a young woman who knows freedom is likely to be more difficult than her enslavement. (author’s note, Washington’s writings about slavery, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 12+)