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Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  5,324 ratings  ·  994 reviews
A startling and eye-opening look into America’s First Family, Never Caught is the powerful narrative of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s runaway slave who risked it all to escape the nation’s capital and reach freedom.

When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of th
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Kindle Edition, 272 pages
Published February 7th 2017 by Atria / 37 Ink
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Peter Barney The book is best classified as "Based on a true story."

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Average rating 3.80  · 
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 ·  5,324 ratings  ·  994 reviews


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Start your review of Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
Kim
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
I'm so glad Ona Judge's story is abroad in the world. She's clearly a woman of grit, determination, resourcefulness, and strength of belief, and there are far too few women from her time period and experiences known to history. ...But I did not really enjoy this portrayal of her story.

Part of the reason for that is that, while the title, subtitle, and summary promise an exciting pursuit of a daring runaway slave, half the book is actually just historical description of the Washingtons' movements
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Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.



Never Caught is an informative, well-researched, swift read about Ona Judge George and Martha Washington.
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Trish
Mar 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The story of Ona Maria Judge, slave to President George Washington who escaped his presidential residence in Philadelphia and fled by sea to Portsmouth, New Hampshire in May 1796, may be one of the most intriguing escape narratives ever told. I’d first heard of Oney Judge and Washington’s pursuit of her from a mind-expanding history of black freed men and slaves in New Hampshire called Black Portsmouth, written by Valerie Cunningham and Mark J. Sammons.

In this work, historian E.A. Dunbar examin
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Erin
Never Caught is a thoroughly researched and moving account of a woman who refused to be property. I wouldn't recommend this book to the casual reader because it can be very dry at times, so I only recommend it to those who are very interested in history. I learned a lot about George and Martha Washington as well as what life was like at the beginning of this country.

Popsugar 2017 Reading Challenge: Book Involving Travel
Rebecca Wilson
This book is a pop history in the vein of Erik Larson. Not a compliment.

Oh how I wanted to love this book—what a subject! What a courageous person.

Pros: Ona Judge was a complete badass. This book is a quick, easy read and accessible to teenagers. That's important. And it really does seem to be well-researched, with extensive endnotes.

Cons: This book reads like a really strong first draft of a much better book. The paragraphs and pages seem cobbled together, with a lot of repetitive phrasing a
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Clif Hostetler
Aug 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This history is a blemish on the facade of freedom upon which the United States claims to be founded. It turns out that George Washington wasn't so generous with slaves who decided they preferred freedom over involuntary servitude.

Ona Maria Judge (a.k.a. Oney) was the personal slave attendant to Martha Washington. During the first seven years of George Washington's presidential term she attended to all Martha's personal needs. She was usually in attendance at social engagements as well, and thu
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Emily
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
2.5 stars I think...
or maybe I should say "Emily would have been inclined to give the book 2.5 stars if there would have been such an option available to her in the rating system of her day"

ugh. First, the positive. Without such a book, I would not have known anything at all of Ona Judge. I do know some history, took some visits to Mount Vernon, but the history of the moves of the president and therefore his slaves from Mount Vernon to NY, then Philadelphia was interesting.

But, since there seems
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Heidi The Reader
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
An interesting, non-fiction book about Ona Judge, a woman who was one of Martha Washington's personal slaves until she ran away. Ona remained a fugitive for the rest of her life. This book dissects early emancipation laws in the United States and Ona's life, as well as revealing struggles in the private lives of George and Martha Washington.

Ona was born to a black slave and a white, indentured servant. Ona and her mother were abandoned by Ona's father after only a few years.

"Ona Judge learned va
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Liz
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're listening to this book, you should probably listen to a neutral palate cleanser before listening to Hamilton. Going from actual Washington to Chris Jackson is jarring.
Anyway, it's a wonderful short-but-not-little work of history that uses the Washingtons and Judge to reconstruct the complexity (and hypocrisy) of slavery in the 18th century. The book itself is cautious, indicating clearly the difference between what we can know and what we can only speculate. It's a stark reminder how
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Chris Eells
I received Never Caught in return for an unbiased review.

Who was Ona Judge? I don't know and apparently neither does anyone else. This story, while apparently heavily annotated, seems heavily opinionated and filled with trivial facts. In truth, I imagine it was probably quite difficult to dig up very much information on a slave that couldn't read or write until late in life and didn't leave hardly any opinions of her own.

I think the story is amazing and I would have loved to have learned more a
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Bryn Greenwood
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not only is this a very thoroughly researched book, but it’s full of thoughtfully imagined characterization of the enslaved people who so frequently invisibly inhabit stories of important historical figures. Honestly, I think this would be a great text for high school students studying early American history. So frequently schools let white students gloss over what it meant for this nation that its founding fathers were slave owners & this doesn’t shy away from the ugly realities of that. ...more
Gretchen
Feb 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book should be taught in history courses. It is a really important story, as well as a good read. I know how difficult it is to piece a history together with limited resources, and I understand the amount of research that goes into something like this. I think the author did a good job of fleshing out Ona as a living person, and setting the scenes of her life. Dunbar shines a light on the surprising (and disappointing) views and behavior of George Washington, who has always been held up as ...more
Barb
This was so disappointing. I was looking forward to hearing about Ona Judge, sadly 90-95% of this book is dedicated to the Washingtons. Much of the information shared was supposition about Ona's life. Phrases like Ona might have, could have, would have, were frequent. Sentences that began with, Ona did, were very few.

The title for the book is very misleading. There is very little about Ona Judge included. I think a more accurate title would have been 'The Washington's Slaves'.

I wish the interv
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Megan
Despite the limitations of historical record that Dunbar was working with, this book is very easy to recommend, especially for readers who are interested in this period or aspect of history but don't necessarily have extensive background knowledge. The writing itself is very accessible. Particularly, I was impressed by how Dunbar highlighted the inescapable emotional labor that's part of an enslaved person's work, and the way she clearly explained (without excusing) the mindsets of slaveowners. ...more
Carlos
Dec 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-btr
Not a very in-depth view of slavery at the dawn of the American nation. Some good reference points regarding the first president and his ties with the slavery industry ( doesn’t make him look good), but the slave itself doesn’t get much attention , basically she escaped and was never caught (as the title of the book let’s you know...spoilers...I know) . It’s mostly about the different meetings the first president had and so all the places the slave (onea Judge) visited , the book is mostly a loo ...more
Tasha
Interesting, quick story. Presents another side of GW that I feel is good to know.
Alicen
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As someone who has visited Mount Vernon dozens of times, I found this book to be very eye-opening and a reminder of the full picture of who George Washington and his wife were in real life. They upheld and benefited from the institution of slavery, and I feel this is a fact we need to confront and consider.
Montzalee Wittmann
Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar is a very informative and interesting read. It tells about a very determined Ona Judge and very sneaky Washingtons. I knew the Washingtons had slaves but I just didn't know how sneaky they were to work around their 'human property'. Wow, they were really terrible. My grandmother's name was Ona and I didn't get to know her, I was only 6 months when she died but the way she is described sh ...more
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
It seems that there really isn’t that much known about Ona Judge, which leads to a lot of “she would have” done or felt a certain way. Also, the few letters written over a few years and a couple of visits to negotiate with her to return hardly seemed like a “relentless pursuit”. On the up side, this book gives a lot of great historical information on how enslaved people navigated the laws and their lives in the early days of the country.
Lois
I thoroughly enjoyed this well researched and thoughtful biography. I found this extremely readable and nicely paced. The author uses white sources, The Washington's, to track Judge's early years acknowledges that and still manages to leave The First Family in the background. Skillfully done. Ona has her own voice and tells her own story.
George and Martha Washington are truly despicable people. I hope they died in abject pain, George for one did.
Jessica
Wow. My mind is still processing this, so I'm not sure what to say. Very readable.
Stacie C
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-authors, 2019
Not too long ago I sat in a kindergarten classroom while the history of George Washington was taught. The same old repeated stories were told to this classroom of young children that I heard as a child: he had wooden teeth, he cut down an apple tree, he was the father of our country. My son once sat in that same classroom and heard those same stories A year later he would take a field trip to Mount Vernon and see the home of the famous George Washington. Now, my son was taught about slavery but ...more
SmartBitches
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, b-grade
Full review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge is a nonfiction book about the efforts of one of George and Martha Washington’s slaves, Ona Judge, to secure her freedom. In the process, the book describes the struggle the new nation had with slavery and how different states and different individuals dealt with the matter.

This book shines in revealing Martha, George, and Ona as people, with flaws and moods and family pr
...more
Leah
My third Tackling the TBR! I truly didn’t want this one to end and tried my best to savor each page, a hard task with such a short book. Still, I’m immensely happy I finally set aside the time to dive into this one! Never Caught is a highly readable, engaging read perfect for fans of historical fiction (the narrative flows just like a fiction novel, making it a great book for those put off by dry, academic works) and nonfiction alike.

For the full review and more, head over to The Pretty Good Gat
...more
John Findlay
Mar 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The subject of this book is fascinating, and reminds us that the Founding Fathers were human and far less than perfect. Ona Judge was a house slave for the Washingtons during his Presidency (technically, she belonged to Martha Washington) who escaped while the "White House" was in Philadelphia. She relocated to New Hampshire, but had to endure a rigorous pursuit by George Washington and his allies. She managed to remain free, and lived to tell her story many years later. The book points out how ...more
Andre
Feb 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a hard story to even attempt to write, and I really admire that someone made the effort. I’m also impressed with the fact that it manages to be both well sourced and very accessible in terms of writing style. However, with that said, this did end up being a little hit and miss for me, in particular when it came to trying to introduce possible thoughts and feelings Ona may have had throughout her life. I think it’s a worthy goal to try to construct the internal life of someone who by nece ...more
Ashley Marie
Incredible story, with a heartwrenching epilogue. And Robin Miles is one of my favorite audiobook narrators.
Nancy
Jul 06, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: not-recommending, dnf
I'm having trouble believing this is a completely true story and could not finish because of that. Well written story, but just can't get past the hurdle it isn't embellished for shock value. I mean, almost nothing we read or see in the news these days tells the whole and true story. Everything has a slant to sway the reader/listener to believe what they are told to believe.
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Erica Armstrong Dunbar is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University. She also served as director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Dunbar attended college at the University of Pennsylvania, then earned an M.A. and Ph.D. from Columbia University.

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“Both Lear and Washington held fast to paternalistic assumptions about African slavery, believing that enslaved men and women were better off with a generous owner than emancipated and living independent lives. Decades later, Southerners would justify the institution of slavery with descriptions of the supposed benefits that came with enslavement. According to many Southerners, slaves were better cared for, better fed, sheltered, and treated almost as though they were members of the family. Northern emancipation left thousands of ex-slaves without assistance, and Southerners charged that free blacks were living and dying in the cold alleyways of the urban North. Many believed Northern freedom to be a far less humane existence, one that left black men and women to die in the streets from exposure and starvation. But” 3 likes
“Very few eighteenth-century slaves have shared their stories about the institution and experience of slavery. The violence required to feed the system of human bondage often made enslaved men and women want to forget their pasts, not recollect them. For fugitives, like Ona Judge, secrecy was a necessity. Enslaved men and women on the run often kept their pasts hidden, even from the people they loved the most: their spouses and children. Sometimes, the nightmare of human bondage, the murder, rape, dismemberment, and constant degradation, was simply too terrible to speak of. But it was the threat of capture and re-enslavement that kept closed the mouths of those who managed to beat the odds and successfully escape. Afraid of being returned to her owners, Judge lived a shadowy life that was isolated and clandestine. For almost fifty years, the fugitive slave woman kept to herself, building a family and a new life upon the quicksand of her legal enslavement. She lived most of her time as a fugitive in Greenland, New Hampshire, a tiny community just outside the city of Portsmouth. At” 2 likes
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