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An advertisement popped up on my Facebook page for an article about George Washington. I clicked it, and while on the page, learned of the book, Never Caught: The Washington’s Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. I immediately requested the book and read it as soon as I got it.
About Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
This was a fascinating book! While the book tells the story of Ona Judge and her role for the Washingtons, of course, much of the book is speculation. Ona Judge didn’t learn to read and write until after she ran away. She did give an interview or two when she was older, but not enough to fill the entire book. Still, I think Dunbar did a good job with the speculation.
The second part of this story isn’t just about Judge, but about the institute of slavery in general and the North’s gradual shift from an area with slaves to the eradication of all slavery. Judge ran away in 1797 and went to New Hampshire. In New Hampshire at the time, slavery was still legal. However, Judge had no trouble finding people to help protect her.
We here so much about the Underground Railroad, but in Judge’s time, there was no Underground Railroad, so escape was even more difficult.
When Judge obtained her freedom, she married and had children, but I was sad (though not surprised) to read that her life was so difficult after she obtained freedom. I was also amazed that even though the Washingtons quickly learned where Judge was, they could never get her back.
I learned a great deal about the history of the United States in this book. When I think of slavery, I tend to think of that period between the 1840s and the Civil War. However, Never Caught looks at a time much earlier than that–the late 1700s to mid-1800s. I never thought about slaves being in the North, but they were for many decades before the Northern states eventually outlawed it, setting the way for the Civil War.
I also found the laws fascinating regarding ownership of slaves. For instance, on his death, Washington set all of his slaves free, but he didn’t own all the slaves on Mount Vernon. Many of those slaves were his wife’s, inherited from her first husband when he died. And even if Martha Washington had wanted to free her slaves (and she didn’t), she couldn’t because they were marked for her heirs based on her first husband’s will.
From a historical perspective, I highly recommend Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar.
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.
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