Posts Tagged ‘Oney Judge’

George Washington & Black History Month

February 22, 2019

George Washington & Black History Month
February 22nd, George Washington’s Birthday falls during Black History Month, bitterly appropriate, as the Father of His Country owned as many as 317 slaves. As president, he signed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, requiring authorities in free states and territories to allow slave-catchers to seize escaped slaves and transport them South. However, Ona Judge, a maid to Martha Washington, fled the president’s household and resisted his recovery attempts.

In 1780 the Washingtons were living in Philadelphia, then the seat of government, when Pennsylvania passed a law that freed enslaved people if they lived there for more than six months. The Washingtons gamed the system, moving their household slaves out of Pennsylvania for one or two days every six months so they legally could remain in bondage. The household was preparing to return to Virginia in 1796 when members of Philadelphia’s free Black community helped Ona Judge arrange ship passage to Portsmouth, NH, where she settled.

George Washington’s steward soon advertised for recovery of the “absconded” Ona Judge in the Philadelphia Gazette: