A startling, well-researched slave narrative that seriously questions the intentions of our first president.

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.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2639-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: 37 Ink/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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