Rabb introduces resolution to honor life, legacy of Ona Judge

Ona Judge was a woman who dared to be free — even if it meant fleeing enslavement from George and Martha Washington, our nation’s idyllic first couple.
More than 170 years after her death, and more than 220 years after she left Pennsylvania, Ona Maria Judge Staines, remains one the most courageous people to ever live in Pennsylvania, although she was never formally a resident of the state.

She was brought to the city of Philadelphia as an enslaved maid to George and Martha Washington. But the Washingtons were careful to not keep her in Pennsylvania for more than six months at a time, lest she establish a legal residency, which would have freed her from enslavement under Pennsylvania law, according to MountVernon.org.

Ona Maria Judge Staines is one of the most under-studied fugitives from slavery in America who, at the age of 22, literally stole herself from the Washingtons.

On May 21, 1796, while the household of Washington’s Philadelphia mansion was preparing to travel to Mount Vernon for the summer, Ona Maria Judge Staines walked out of the house while the family was eating dinner. She boarded a ship to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and she lived the remainder of her life in New Hampshire, free but a fugitive.

When she died in New Hampshire on Feb. 25, 1848 at the age of 75, she was legally the property of George Washington’s stepgrandchild.

Ona Maria Judge Staines forced the first president of the United States to show his slave-catching hand. Her story is significant for it reminds us of the untold number of Africans who were kidnapped, tortured and faced the degradation of the auction block. She was caught in that web of human trafficking and, like millions of others, she survived.

She was a woman who found the courage to defy the President of the United States; the wit to find allies, escape, run and survive. Her story is the only existing account of a fugitive once held by the Washingtons.

Although she was forced to live as a fugitive for nearly 50 years in New Hampshire, this brave woman told her story to two abolitionist newspapers. Her life reminds us of the power of protest and the never-ending search for liberty, and exposes the sting of slavery and the drive of defiance.

Ona Maria Judge Staines fought for what she believed to be her right: Freedom. She is an American hero; an enslaved girl born at Mount Vernon who, once exposed to Black Freedom in Pennsylvania, was compelled to pursue it at any cost. She must never be forgotten.

Above is an advertisement published in "The Pennsylvania Gazette" on May 24, 1796, after Ona Maria Judge Staines, called Oney Judge, left the household of George and Martha Washington, and was considered to be a fugitive.