The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom

Overview

When General George Washington is elected the first President of the United States, his wife chooses young Oney Judge, a house slave who works as a seamstress at Mount Vernon, to travel with her to the nation’s capital in New York City as her personal maid. When the capital is moved to Philadelphia, the Washingtons and Oney move, too, and there Oney meets free blacks for the first time. At first Oney can’t imagine being free – she depends on the Washingtons for food, warmth, and clothing. But then Mrs. Washington...

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Overview

When General George Washington is elected the first President of the United States, his wife chooses young Oney Judge, a house slave who works as a seamstress at Mount Vernon, to travel with her to the nation’s capital in New York City as her personal maid. When the capital is moved to Philadelphia, the Washingtons and Oney move, too, and there Oney meets free blacks for the first time. At first Oney can’t imagine being free – she depends on the Washingtons for food, warmth, and clothing. But then Mrs. Washington tells Oney that after her death she will be sent to live with Mrs. Washington’s granddaughter. Oney is horrified because she knows it is likely that she will then be sold to a stranger – the worst fate she can imagine. Oney realizes she must run. One day she sees an opportunity and takes it, ending up in New Hampshire, where she lives the rest of her life, poor but free.

Pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations bring to life this picture book biography of Oney Judge, a young woman who, in the end, has no mistress but herself.

 

The Escape of Oney Judge is a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"McCully, at the top of her game, takes a rather sophisticated piece of history and writes it in a way that will draw children. Fascinating." --Starred, Booklist

"Straightforward and unapologetic in delivery, this offering stands as a noteworthy effort to add complexity to the mythology surrounding the country's first president. . . . Gutsy--and very nicely done." --Starred, Kirkus Reviews

"A nuanced presentation of what the early days of liberty looked like to those whose liberty was restricted." --Chicago Tribune

"The watercolor paintings, often circular cameos on the page, along with the text, create a good sense of household life and the rising issues of slavery in these early days of the new republic."--School Library Journal

"Sentence after sentence . . . cut[s] like the flick of a whip." --The Washington Post Book World

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz
Young Oney Judge is a slave on George Washington's plantation. Although she works in the big house, Oney is aware of the poor treatment other slaves receive, and wonders why the Revolution has not brought slaves their freedom. McCully's lengthy but engaging text follows Oney to New York and Philadelphia with the new president's family. After hearing about Toussaint L'Ouverture and the slave revolt in Haiti, Oney begins to think of her own freedom. When the family packs to return to Mount Vernon, Oney flees to New Hampshire to start a new life. Even when spotted by a friend of the Washington family who tries to make her return, she determines to stay and manages to live a free life. McCully's watercolor vignettes illustrate the characters and settings of the extensive text, visually informing us of the clothing, architecture, and social interactions in Oney's life. Our emotions are involved by the harsh actions of some masters. No attempt is made to overlook Washington's participation in the practices of slave owners of the time. The sequence of scenes is almost cinematic history. A note adds information about the background of the story, with added sources.
School Library Journal
Gr 2–4
Drawing on well-documented accounts of Martha Washington's runaway slave, McCully's fictionalized retelling focuses on Oney Judge's childhood and early adult years. Favored by her mistress, the girl is separated from her mother when Washington becomes president and moves his family from Mount Vernon to New York and then to the new capital in Philadelphia. The watercolor paintings, often circular cameos on the page, along with the text, create a good sense of household life and the rising issues of slavery in these early days of the new republic. McCully uses Oney's growing awareness of the meaning and importance of freedom as a theme throughout the story. Running away first as a teenager, Oney must run again when she's nearly caught after she has married and become a young mother. Her story here ends a bit inconclusively with the promise of lifelong freedom. "Several months later, President Washington died and his wife gave up on ever owning her maid again." McCully follows this somewhat abrupt finish with an author's note sketching in a bit more about Oney's subsequent long life.
—Margaret BushCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Just in time for Washington's Birthday comes this tale of young Oney Judge, personal slave to Martha Washington, and her quest for freedom. Although Martha treats her well, saying she's "become like another of our children," Oney knows better and longs to control her own destiny. When the Presidential household moves to Philadelphia and Oney sees free blacks for the first time, she begins to imagine that this might be a possibility-and eventually steals her freedom, escaping north. McCully doesn't pull many punches, explaining that Oney's favored position in the Washington household is because of her light skin, and revealing a vain, self-satisfied Mrs. Washington. The story is rendered in the Caldecott Medalist's signature delicate watercolors, which revel in the swags and flounces of period detail. Oney herself is a slight, be-freckled figure who gazes out from under her mobcap with determination and pride. Straightforward and unapologetic in delivery, this offering stands as a noteworthy effort to add complexity to the mythology surrounding the country's first president-a mythology rarely leavened with unpleasant truth for readers this young. Gutsy-and very nicely done. (author's note, bibliography) (Picture book. 5-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374322250
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 1/23/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 792,595
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: 770L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.86 (w) x 11.40 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

EMILY ARNOLD MCCULLY has written and illustrated many children's books, including Mirette on the High Wire, a Caldecott Medal Book, Marvelous Mattie, and Squirrel and John Muir, an NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies. She divides her time between New York City and upstate New York.

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