Post by Diana Rubino
I wanted to write a bio novel about Martha Washington, but do something different. The idea to use Oney as narrator hit me like lightning one day out of the blue. I asked my friend, popular African American romance author Piper Huguley, to help me and the result is Oney, My Escape From Slavery.
In 1793, a decade after General George Washington led America to victory in its fight for independence from Britain, the general reluctantly accepted a second term as president of the new nation. But in his heart he wanted to go back to being a farmer. And being a farmer means he has slaves. Lady Washington, equally opposed to her aging husband serving another term, was unable to persuade him to give up his public ‘duty’.
Lady Washington began to confide in her ‘personal servant’ – her young slave Oney Judge.
Oney was a ‘quadroon’ – three parts white and one part black. But since her mother, Betty, was one of Lady Washington’s slaves, Oney was born into slavery. Because of Oney’s light skin, Lady Washington brought her to work in the “big house” at Mount Vernon, sewing dresses and serving tea—mostly light duties. But though visitors often mistook her for a Washington relative, Oney remained in bondage.
In the spring of 1796, Lady Washington told Oney “You will make my granddaughter Eliza a nice wedding gift.” Oney soon discovered this did not mean sewing a negligee or a quilt for a gift. No, it means that she would be the gift. That was the day Oney decided to escape. She attended meetings where she met many free blacks willing to help her, and on May 21, 1796, Oney walked past the Washingtons and out the front door.
They knew she’d escaped to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But after two years Oney still eluded their capture. In an act of unexpected lenience, Lady Washington gave up on Oney and let her remain free. While living in Portsmouth, Oney married a sailor, Jack Staines, and had three children. She outlived her husband and children, and lived her remaining free life in Greenland, New Hampshire. Somewhat of a local celebrity, she lived in poverty, but the locals supported her and she took in sewing to supplement her meagre income. She declared in an 1847 interview, “I am free now and choose to remain so.”
Continue reading about Oney’s amazing story HERE!