The Escape of Oney judge: Martha Washington’s Slave Finds Freedom
Emily Arnold McCully
Fiction and Non-Fiction Picture Book
Ages 7 to 10
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007, 0-374-3225-2
Oney is a little slave girl who lives at Mount Vernon, the estate owned and run by General George Washington. When she is still quite young Oney is selected to become of the house slaves. She learns how to sew beautifully and how to starch Martha Washington’s fancy caps. Sometimes she is allowed to play with Nelly, Martha Washington’s grand-daughter. One thing she is not allowed to do is to learn how to read and write. This particularly distresses Oney but there is nothing she can do about it.
One day Oney is told that she is going to have to leave her home and her family. The General has been chosen to be America’s first president and he and his wife have to move to New York. Martha Washington has decided that Oney is going to be her personal maid during this new adventure.
As Oney walks the streets of New York and then of Philadelphia, she seems free black people walking by with their heads held high. In the kitchens of her mistresses’ friends she hears about slaves who have been freed or who have run away towards freedom. She also comes to see that the “Creator never meant for us to be in chains.” Somehow Oney has to find a way to gain her freedom before she is sold off to some cruel master or mistress.
This touching story beautifully describes what it was like to be a slave in the early days of the republic. Though Oney did not dislike the Washingtons she could not bear being sold and bought as if she were a piece of furniture. She could not bear not having any control over her life, and she hated being told that she could not educate herself if she so wished.
An “Author’s Note” at the back of the book provides the reader with more information about Oney and her life story.
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