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Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge Hardcover – February 7, 2017
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“A fascinating and moving account of a courageous and resourceful woman. Beautifully written and utilizing previously untapped sources, it sheds new light both on the father of our country and on the intersections of slavery and freedom in the flawed republic he helped to found.”
(Eric Foner, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Fiery Trial and Gateway to Freedom)
"Never Caught is the compelling story of Ona Judge Staines, the woman who successfully defied George and Martha Washington in order to live as free woman. With vivid prose and deep sympathy, Dunbar paints a portrait of woman whose life reveals the contradictions at the heart of the American founding: men like Washington fought for liberty for themselves even as they kept people like Ona Staines in bondage. There is no way to really know the Washingtons without knowing this story." (Annette Gordon Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello)
"A crisp and compulsively readable feat of research and storytelling." (USA Today)
"Totally engrossing and absolutely necessary for understanding the birth of the American Republic, Never Caught is richly human history from the vantage point of the enslaved fifth of the early American population. Here is Ona Judge’s (successful) quest for freedom, on one side, and, on the other, George and Martha Washington’s (vain) use of federal power to try to keep her enslaved.” (Nell Irvin Painter, author of Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol)
"Dunbar has teased out Ona Judge from the shadows of history and given us a determined woman who rejected life as a slave in the comfortable household of George Washington for the risks of freedom . We see Washington -- a man torn by conflicting sentiments about slavery -- in a new and ambiguous light, and plunge with Judge into the teeming cities of the young republic, where for the first time Americans are beginning to grapple with the contradiction between the Founders' ideals and the unyielding fact of slavery. No one who reads this book will think quite the same way about George and Martha Washington again." (Fergus M. Bordewich, author of The First Congress)
"Dunbar brings to life the forgotten story of a woman who fled enslavement from America’s First Family. Her mostly Northern story is a powerful reminder that the tentacles of slavery could reach from the South, all the way to the state of New Hampshire. The surprising part of this true history is not that she achieved her freedom, but the lengths to which George and Martha Washington would go to try to recapture a young woman who insulted them by rejecting bondage." (Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, Dean of Commonwealth Honors College and author of Mr & Ms. Prince)
“In this riveting and thoroughly researched account of the life of Ona Judge Staines, historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar carefully and compellingly constructs enslaved life inside The President's House and in the larger urban and rural communities of the time. A true page-turner, readers will come away with a deeper appreciation of enslaved people’s lives and a disturbing portrait of George and Martha Washington as slave owners. This book will change the way we study the history of slavery in the U.S, the history of American Presidents, and especially the burgeoning field of black women’s history.” (Daina Ramey Berry, Historian at the University of Texas at Austin and author of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh)
“With the production of the Tony-award winning play, Hamilton, many Americans have been reminded of the noble actions of the nation’s fathers and mothers in birthing a new country founded on democracy, liberty, and freedom. In Never Caught historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar pulls back the curtain on their individual actions by focusing on Ona Judge, an enslaved woman owned by Martha and George Washington, who stole herself to freedom and refused to be reenslaved. Piecing together the fragments of a life, in vivid prose, Dunbar reminds us of the tremendous toll slavery visited on men and women of conscience and conviction, both black and white. This is a must read for anyone interested in this nation’s long pursuit of perfecting freedom.” (Earl Lewis, President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation)
"A startling, well-researched . . . narrative that seriously questions the intentions of our first president." (Kirkus Reviews)
“There are books that can take over your life: Try as you might, you can’t seem to escape their mysterious power. That’s the feeling I had when reading the tour de force, Never Caught.” (Essence Magazine)
About the Author
Erica Armstrong Dunbar is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University. She also serves as Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Her first book, A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City was published by Yale University Press in 2008. She is also the author of Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge.
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