The Nonfiction Book Club discusses Never Caught, the Washington's Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. Call the library if you wish to borrow a copy and get it at Curbside Pickup. This meeting takes place on Zoom. Meeting link information is sent out a week before the discussion to anyone who borrowed a book or signed-up (see below.)
When George and Martha Washington moved from their beloved Mount Vernon in Virginia to Philadelphia, then the seat of the nation's capital, they took nine enslaved people with them. They would serve as cooks and horsemen, as house servants and personal attendants. The North was different for the entire household, free and enslaved, white and black. There was a new climate to adjust to, and new mores as well. Slavery, in Philadelphia at least, was looked down upon. Indeed, there was even a law requiring slaveholders to free their slaves after six months. Yet George Washington thought he could outwit and circumvent the law by sending his slaves south every six months, thereby resetting the clock. Among the slaves to figure out this subterfuge was Ona Judge, Martha Washington's chief attendant. Having interacted with Philadelphia's sizable free black community, Ona Judge observed and soon longed for liberation. And, risking everything she knew, leaving behind everyone she loved and had known her entire life, she fled. Here, then, is the story not only of the powerful lure of freedom but also of George Washington's determination to recapture his property by whatever means necessary. Never Caught is the only book that examines the life of an eighteenth-century fugitive woman in intricate detail, and it provides a new look at George Washington's relationship to slavery. An important new work on one of the world's most celebrated families, Never Caught is a must-read for anyone interested in American history.