Presidents' Day

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
596px-Oney_Judge_Runaway_Ad.jpg


As we all take a moment to honor our founding fathers, it's worth taking a moment to also acknowledge one of our founding mothers:


Absconded from the household of the President of the United States, ONEY JUDGE, a light mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy hair. She is of middle stature, slender, and delicately formed, about 20 years of age. 

She has many changes of good clothes, of all sorts, but they are not sufficiently recollected to be descri- bed--As there was no suspicion of her going off, nor no provocation to do so, it is not easy to conjecture whither she has gone, or fully, what her design is;-- but as she may attempt to escape by water, all masters of vessels are cautioned against admitting her into them, although it is probable she will attempt to pass for a free woman, and has, it is said, where- withal to pay her passage. 

Ten dollars will be paid to any person who will bring her home, if taken in the city, or on board any vessel in the harbour;--and a reasonable additional sum if apprehended at, and brought from a greater distance, and in proportion to the distance. 

FREDERICK KITT, Steward.

Judge was a personal assistant to Martha Washington. She fled upon being told that she would be wedding present to Washington's a grand-daughter. (Again, enslaved black people were literal property--fit to be bought, traded, and presented. And over the next half-century, slavery came to be thought of by Southerners as the natural place of black people.) 

Judge lived the rest of her days in toil, Her husband, who'd helped her escape to New Hampshire, died soon after the fled. Her kids hired themselves out as indentured servants. But Oney Judge wanted nothing of pity:

When asked if she is not sorry she left Washington, as she has labored so much harder since, than before, her reply is, "No, I am free, and have, I trust been made a child of God by the means."

Freedom is the right to govern your life. It is the ownership of your labor, not economic security. No one knew this more than the enslaved. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/02/presidents-day/71506/