Erica Armstrong Dunbar
The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
in conversation with ANNETTE GORDON-REED
This event includes a book signing
March 6, 2017
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store and Mass Humanities welcome historian and professor ERICA ARMSTRONG DUNBAR—an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer and author of A Fragile Freedom—and Pulitzer Prize–winning author ANNETTE GORDON-REED for a discussion of Dunbar's latest book, Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge.
About Never Caught
A startling and eye-opening look into America’s First Family, Never Caught is the powerful narrative of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s runaway slave who risked it all to escape the nation’s capital and reach freedom.
When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital, after a brief stay in New York. In setting up his household he took Tobias Lear, his celebrated secretary, and nine slaves, including Ona Judge, about which little has been written. As he grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t get his arms around: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.
Though Ona Judge lived a life of relative comfort, the few pleasantries she was afforded were nothing compared to freedom, a glimpse of which she encountered first-hand in Philadelphia. So, when the opportunity presented itself one clear and pleasant spring day in Philadelphia, Judge left everything she knew to escape to New England. Yet freedom would not come without its costs.
At just twenty-two-years-old, Ona became the subject of an intense manhunt led by George Washington, who used his political and personal contacts to recapture his property.
Impeccably researched, historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar weaves a powerful tale and offers fascinating new scholarship on how one young woman risked it all to gain freedom from the famous founding father.
"A fascinating and moving account of a courageous and resourceful woman. Beautifully written and utilizing previously untapped sources it sheds new light both on the father of our country and on the intersections of slavery and freedom in the flawed republic he helped to found." —Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Fiery Trial and Gateway to Freedom
"Totally engrossing and absolutely necessary for understanding the birth of the American Republic, Never Caught is richly human history from the vantage point of the enslaved fifth of the early American population. Here is Ona Judge’s (successful) quest for freedom, on one side, and, on the other, George and Martha Washington’s (vain) use of federal power to try to keep her enslaved." —Nell Irvin Painter, author of Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol
"Never Caught is the compelling story of Ona Judge Staines, the woman who successfully defied George and Martha Washington in order to live as free woman. With vivid prose and deep sympathy, Dunbar paints a portrait of woman whose life reveals the contradictions at the heart of the American founding: men like Washington fought for liberty for themselves even as they kept people like Ona Staines in bondage. There is no way to really know the Washingtons without knowing this story." —Annette Gordon Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
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Mass Humanities conducts and supports programs that use history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines to enhance and improve civic life in Massachusetts. Learn more at masshumanities.org.
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