The Story of Oney Judge

Episode 126

Ona Maria Judge – better known as Oney – was born into slavery in 1774 at a familiar location in Virginia: Mount Vernon. Oney’s mother Betty was brought to Mount Vernon after George Washington married Martha in 1759. Betty, and her descendants, were considered the “property” of Martha Washington’s first husband, Daniel Custis, who’d died just a few years before Martha married George.

At the age of 10, Oney Judge was Martha’s attendant, caring for Martha’s wardrobe and her personal needs. Then, George became the President. He and Martha chose a number of enslaved members of their household to relocate with them to New York, and soon thereafter Philadelphia.

While in Philadelphia, Oney saw free Black men and women – building a community outside the bondage of slavery. After more than six years as an enslaved woman in the President’s house in Philadelphia, and a lifetime of slavery before that, Oney Judge made the courageous decision to flee the Washington’s household. She was considered a fugitive, one that George Washington refused let go.

Research sources for this episode include:

  • Never Caught: The Washington’s’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
  • They Were Her Property – White women as Slave Owners in the American South, by  Stephane Jones-Rogers
  • Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography The president’s house in Philadelphia – rediscovery of a lost landmark by Edward Lawler
  • Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, an exhibition on view in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center from 2016–2020
  • ushistory.org – The President’s House in Pennsylvania; For Whom Will the Liberty Bell Toll? From Controversy to Collaboration by Gary B. Nash
  • EncyclopediaVirginia.org
  • NationalParkService.org: Excavating the President’s House
  • MarthaWashington.us – Archive