ONEY JUDGE

oneyjudge

Oney was a slave in the Washington Household. She had been with the family since the age of 10, most likely as a playmate for Nelly Custis, one of Martha Washington's grandchildren. She quickly rose to be Martha's personal attendant.

When the capitol was moved from New York to Philadelphia it complicated the ownership of slaves for the Washington's. Pennsylvania had a policy of “gradual abolition” literally entitled The Gradual Abolition Act. It had many rules and regulations that effected the enslaved. This law effected Oney because George Washington qualified as an out of state slave owner so he could only keep his personal slaves in state for 6 months. Washington fought this (lightly) saying he was a true resident of Virginia and shouldn't be bound by Pennsylvania laws. He followed a loop hole in the law by never staying in PA for loner than 6 months, and frequently rotating his slaves between states and residences. (YUCK)

Oney knew about the laws and regulations of Pennsylvania and tried to stay there as much as possible. She also had contacts in Pennsylvania's black community. Oney decided to escape as the Washington family was preparing to leave Pennsylvania and return to Virginia. Martha informed Oney that she would be given as a gift to Martha's grandchild. 
Oney had had enough. She sent her personal belongings off to her friends and left the Washington's home while they were busy eating dinner.

The Washington's wanted her back badly. But they never saw her again. 
Oney was never found. She lived as a free woman, married, and had a family. She lived in constant fear of being found out. Oney didn't share her secret with anyone until she was literally on her death bed. She bravely gave an interview to two journalists of two different Abolitionist newspapers.

Oney Judge Staines legacy lives on in numerous works of fiction and an Oney Judge Day, celebrated on May 21 (the day she escaped to freedom) each year in Philadelphia. 
Here's to a true freedom fighter, Oney Judge!

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