Ona Judge was born enslaved, grew up enslaved, and while she was legally enslaved, she lived free for the majority of her life. Ona Maria Judge was the daughter of an enslaved seamstress named Betty and an indentured servant, Andrew Judge. Both were working at George Washington’s home plantation, Mount Vernon when Ona was born. Andrew made a fast exit because he could once his four years of indenture were complete, and Ona was raised in the enslaved community of the Virginia plantation.
Ona was there when the Washingtons went to the Revolutionary War, and she was there when they came back home to stay, eight years later. Shortly after that, she was tapped to be trained as Martha’s personal “servant,” and it was in this capacity that she went on the road with the Washingtons when George was elected President of the United States.
We go through a lot of her life, her responsibilities, the people that were her community and family, and what life was like in the bustling world of Philadelphia where Ona was introduced to something that she had never seen: a free-Black population.
Since Ona’s story runs parallel to Martha Washington’s, we strongly suggest you listen to that episode (#225) to get a fuller picture of the setting, and challenges, of Ona’s life. What makes Ona’s story special is that she just walked away from enslavement when she was 22 and never went back. We talk about what she did for the next 52 years as a fugitive boldly living her life as a free woman.
***Shownotes are under construction, please come back later for our media recommendations, but here’s a couple to hold you over:***