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An Enslaved Woman Fights for Freedom

by Gwendolyn Hooks ; illustrated by Simone Agoussoye

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-5435-1280-9
Publisher: Capstone Editions

A little-known true story of a slave sheds new light on George Washington and his family.

Ona Maria Judge was born a slave on Mount Vernon, the Virginia plantation of George Washington, commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Ona’s mother, Betty, served as the Washington family seamstress and imparted needlework skills to Ona, which enabled her to escape harsh fieldwork conditions by becoming a house slave. When Washington was elected president, the family relocated to New York City, moving Ona—now Martha Washington’s personal slave—her brother Austin, and five other slaves with them in 1789. After a return to Mount Vernon, the family moved again to Philadelphia, the new capital. With the abolitionist movement gaining momentum, Ona realized the Washingtons would not free her; she would have to take her freedom. In 1796, when Mrs. Washington promised Ona as a wedding gift to her granddaughter, Ona decided to escape, assisted by the Rev. Richard Allen, a free black man, and others, to New Hampshire. The narrator emphasizes just how hard the Washington family tried to force Ona to return to them, using deception whenever possible. While this story offers important historical information, it is text-heavy, with an accretion of distracting details. The naïve-style illustrations are colorful but inconsistent, particularly in their evocation of the period, which will also limit this book’s appeal to children.

A worthwhile story poorly told.  

(author’s note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 6-9)