The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

A benefit for all Music Hall members, Book Club meets on the second Monday of the month in the lounge at Portwalk Place from 6-7:30pm. Evenings include time for socializing followed by a moderated discussion. This month’s title is Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar.

A limited supply of the books are available for sale at The Black Heritage Trail located at 222 Court Street in Portsmouth. For more information, please visit BHTNH’s website.

About the Book:

When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital. In setting up his household he took Tobias Lear, his celebrated secretary and eight slaves, including Ona Judge, about whom 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, 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.

With impeccable research, 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.

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About Our Moderators:

Senator David Watters has served six terms in the New Hampshire Senate, working on various committees, including Education, Energy and Natural Resources, Transportation, Capital Budget, and Executive Departments and Administration. As a professor at the University of New Hampshire for 39 years, David taught courses on New Hampshire and New England literature, history, and culture, and he was the Director of the Center for New England Culture. A founding member of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, David was project humanist for the feature-length film, Shadows Fall North, wrote and narrated the Concord Black Heritage Tour film, and was featured in New Hampshire Public Radio’s film series on New Hampshire Black History. He has served on the boards of the New Hampshire Historical Society, New Hampshire Humanities, Dover Adult Learning Center, The Robert Frost Farm Homestead, and Pontine Movement Theatre. David is a long term member of The Music Hall, resides in Dover with his wife, Jan and enjoys getting outdoors to run and ski, or going down cellar to his shop to do woodworking, particularly making Shaker oval boxes. 

JerriAnne Boggis is the Executive Director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, the founder and director of The Harriet Wilson Project; and the previous Director of Diversity Programs & Community Outreach at the University of New Hampshire. In 2015 JerriAnne was named “one of 25 Extraordinary Women of Southern New Hampshire” by the Nashua Telegraph and by the New Hampshire Humanities Council as one of the 40 most influential New Hampshirites who have vastly enriched human understanding. In 2020 she was named “one of ten New Hampshire Women of the Century” by USA Today Network for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. She currently serves on several state boards including the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and New Hampshire Listens.


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