Ona Judge: An Unlikely Heroine of Freedom

Ona Judge: An Unlikely Heroine of Freedom


Ona Judge was born into slavery around 1773 at George Washington's Mount Vernon plantation. Her life took a dramatic turn when she was chosen as a personal attendant to Martha Washington. With the Washingtons, she moved to their residences in New York and then onto Philadelphia when George Washington became president.

Ona was a bright and skilled young woman, described as "the perfect mistress of her needle." However, her life as an enslaved person, even for the President of the United States, provided no promise of freedom, security, or dignity.

A Risky Escape North

In 1796, Ona learned she'd be 'gifted' to Martha Washington's temperamental granddaughter as a wedding present. Fearing a life of cruelty, Ona made a daring decision: she fled.

With help from Philadelphia's free black community, Ona boarded a ship headed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There, she started a new life, finding work, a husband, and eventually raising a family of her own.

George Washington's Pursuit

George Washington was furious at Ona's escape. He could not fathom a person choosing freedom over servitude. Despite living in a "free" state, Ona was never truly safe. Washington relentlessly pursued her return, using agents and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 to try and recapture her.

Legacy of Resistance

Ona Judge evaded recapture until her death in 1848. Her story, though filled with the hardships of a fugitive life, remains a testament to the undying human spirit and its yearning for freedom.

Ona's actions were extraordinary considering the era and her own circumstances. She risked everything for a chance to control her own destiny, inspiring generations to continue the fight for liberty.

Why Her Story Matters

  • Slavery in the President's House: Ona Judge's escape highlights the contradiction of slavery existing within the very household of the president of a nation founded on ideals of freedom.
  • The Human Cost: Her story personalizes the fight for freedom, illustrating the devastating human choices forced upon enslaved people and the risks they took.
  • Early Resistance: Ona's story sheds light on active resistance by enslaved people, reminding us that they were not passive victims but active agents in the fight for their freedom.

Learning More about Ona Judge

If you want to learn more about Ona Judge, here are some resources:

Ona Judge's brave choice is a powerful reminder that the fight for freedom continues, regardless of the odds. Her story deserves to be known, celebrated, and understood.

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