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Escape to Freedom
March 17, 2006 8:39 PM   Subscribe

Oney Judge slipped away from the household where she was kept as a slave in 1796. Neighbors were probably involved in the escape. Although a fugitive, she managed to live out the rest of her life in safety in New Hampshire. The owners she was escaping from? You may have heard of them.
posted by gimonca (48 comments total)

 
General George Washington, made his name threatening and then attacking what is now Canada. His ego was so big he thought he could just present the colours and British North America and they would just surrender.

Somehow, given his total lack of good judgement he is seen as an American hero.

Can someone explain to me this man's redeeming qualities? I think of him as a hot headed, jingoist who somehow managed to fail upwards.
posted by Deep Dish at 8:51 PM on March 17, 2006


Well, if we're going to be bashing George Washington in this thread, we might as well start with the Sullivan Expedition. Enjoy.
posted by Ryvar at 8:53 PM on March 17, 2006


Here's another good one

It is more accurate to view Washington, not as the father of American Anti-Imperialism, but as an American slaveholding, land speculating Nabob, like Ben Franklin, seeing the American colonies as the evolving potential center of a British Mercantile Empire, which, denied by London, soon began to develop "a rising empire" of its own. Even neutrality could be violated, if necessary, and a non-entangling policy espoused until the nation was strong enough to pursue a forceful, unilateral policy worthy of a world power.

posted by Deep Dish at 8:59 PM on March 17, 2006


I'm shocked to learn slavery was once legal in America.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:02 PM on March 17, 2006


I'm vaguely shocked that people somewhat close to American centers of power believe slavery should be once again made legal.
posted by troutfishing at 9:06 PM on March 17, 2006


Can we try and gain some perspective on this, especially if we are going to be insulting guys like Franklin?

After Franklin returned from France in 1785, he joined and eventually became president of an abolitionist group founded a decade earlier by the Pennsylvania Quakers. The group was called the Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery and the Relief of Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage. Franklin was convinced that not only the slave trade, but slavery itself should be eliminated. He eventually freed his own two slaves.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:06 PM on March 17, 2006


Sorry here is the link.

http://hnn.us/articles/10373.html
posted by Deep Dish at 9:06 PM on March 17, 2006


Ooh, no one has picked up the Dead White Male Banner yet--Washington had issues, as did all of the founding fathers. My own take is that he should be revered for keeping the Continental Army together throughout the grind that was the Revolutionary War. Yes, he lost far many more battles than he ever won, and given what he had to work with, and what he was workig against (British regulars, lots of colonists who were loyalists) he was evolved into a military genius. That, and stepping down from being president after two terms--Americans take this nicety for granted now (and FDR pushed the issue so that the Constution was amended), but it was hardly a given considering the wobbly condition of the new American government at the end of the 18th century. Lots of people wanted King George to remain in power at the time.
posted by bardic at 9:22 PM on March 17, 2006


Oh, you guys are so kewl. You always know what to bash and belittle. Clearly, sphincters of sophistication.

I'm shocked to learn George Washington kept slaves and made mistakes! Surely you must avoid homage to the likes as he. Send me all your one-dollar bills.
posted by Goofyy at 9:22 PM on March 17, 2006


*my own spelling and grammar? Not so heroic tonight. Sorry.*
posted by bardic at 9:23 PM on March 17, 2006


Lots of people wanted King George to remain in power at the time.

Yes, George III was a temporary evil and generally too crazy to cause much harm and hardship over the long term. Most of the loyalists didn't paticularily like them, but saw the revolution as an over-reaction and the reforms they proposed were advocated mostly by a few commercial interests and a lot of hot heads.

Tories often said it was better to have one tyrant 3000 miles away than 3000 tyrants 1 mile away.

Oh, you guys are so kewl. You always know what to bash and belittle. Clearly, sphincters of sophistication.


George Washington is usually viewed by Americans with an uncritical spirit of veneration normally reserved for ancestor worshippers.
posted by Deep Dish at 9:31 PM on March 17, 2006


Good post. I think the whole paradox of America's founding fathers fighting for freedom while owning slaves is fascinating.

This is an appropriate place as any to share this quote from James Madison. It is from a letter to his father, date Sept. 8, 1783. Madison is referring to Billey, a recently escaped slave of his:

"I have judged it most prudent not to force Billey back to Virginia even if [it] could be done . . . I am persuaded his mind is too thoroughly tainted to be a fit companion for fellow slaves in Virginia . . . but cannot think of punishing him by transportation merely for coveting that liberty for which we have paid the price of so much blood, and have proclaimed so often to be the right, & worthy the pursuit, of every human being. [emphasis mine]

I think that is one of the problems of having a revolution, when do you stop? The slaves can't help hearing about liberty in the air, and the result is things like Gabriel's Rebellion.

Oh, and everybody piling up on George W. and company, if he hadn't risked his life, us Americans here might not have the freedom to sit here fat and happy, bitching about him and George Bush. George Washington and his fellows were great men, but they were flawed. I'm no apologist for slavery, it was repugnant, vile, dehumanizing, terrible, etc. etc., but they were men of their time. Maybe 100 years from now people will look at us as we continued to consume fossil fuel and spew toxins in the air and wonder what in the hell we were thinking and how we justified it.
posted by marxchivist at 9:41 PM on March 17, 2006


In this time of war, pointing out mistakes of our leader gives comfort to the enemy. Why won't you support our troops? Would you rather King George was still in power?
posted by scottreynen at 10:17 PM on March 17, 2006


George Washington is usually viewed by Americans with an uncritical spirit of veneration normally reserved for ancestor worshippers.

Have you actually ever met any Americans?
posted by Doug at 10:39 PM on March 17, 2006


George and Martha, sad, sad, sad.
posted by Jesse H Christ at 10:54 PM on March 17, 2006


Oh, and everybody piling up on George W. and company, if he hadn't risked his life, us Americans here might not have the freedom to sit here fat and happy, bitching about him and George Bush.

This is a little amusing if you read that the way I did.
posted by cellphone at 11:01 PM on March 17, 2006


Have you actually ever met any Americans?

zing!
posted by Bonzai at 11:15 PM on March 17, 2006


Forget Washington, I can't believe our civilization grew from the philosphies of slaveowners like Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. Can you believe they're still teaching their garbage in schools?
posted by loquax at 11:35 PM on March 17, 2006


Historical relativism. That being said, I still think most presidents are assholes.
posted by iamck at 1:18 AM on March 18, 2006


There was no editorializing in the post. Every single person ranting about how the memory of George Washington has been unfairly tainted is inferring something the poster didn't say, and yet realizing themselves what a nasty fact it is.

Clever boys.

Good post. This puts a personal face on the matter, and taught me something I didn't know. I especially appreciated the link to the actual letters that Washington wrote.
posted by digitalis at 1:21 AM on March 18, 2006


There was no editorializing in the post. Every single person ranting about how the memory of George Washington has been unfairly tainted is inferring something the poster didn't say, and yet realizing themselves what a nasty fact it is.

Which is kind of like saying we shouldn't even talk about it...
posted by iamck at 1:44 AM on March 18, 2006


...if he hadn't risked his life, us Americans here might not have the freedom to sit here fat and happy, bitching...

No, that's right, you'd all be Canadians.

You sorry bastards, my sympathies.

.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:18 AM on March 18, 2006


Can someone explain to me this man's redeeming qualities? I think of him as a hot headed, jingoist who somehow managed to fail upwards.


He's quintessentially US American, then, isn't he?


I KID! I kid. I kid, because I love...
posted by darkstar at 2:37 AM on March 18, 2006


Marvelous post. I don't care for judging people from 200 years ago by today's standards. That said, the most interesting part of this, besides the story of Judge herself, is that Washington knew that tracking her down publicly would be unpopular. So the anti-slavery sentiment was strongly at the time than I'd thought. This is a terrific addition to history. Thanks for th epost.
posted by etaoin at 5:38 AM on March 18, 2006


Make that "stronger" not strongly.
posted by etaoin at 5:38 AM on March 18, 2006


Boy, what a depressing thread. A magnificent, perfectly constructed post about a fascinating and little-known episode in American history, and all people can think to do is snark about George Washington, America, etc. Did anybody (other than digitalis) actually read the links? Well done, gimonca, and try not to mind the morons.

This excerpt from the first link should be required reading for anyone studying GW in school:
Scared, lonely and miserable, Oney tried to negotiate through Whipple. She offered to return to the Washingtons, but only if she would be guaranteed freedom upon their deaths. An indignant President responded in person to Whipple's letter: "To enter into such a compromise with her, as she suggested to you, is totally inadmissable [sic], … it would neither be politic or just to reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference [of freedom]; and thereby discontent before hand the minds of all her fellow-servants who by their steady attachments are far more deserving than herself of favor."

...Because of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 which Washington signed into law in Philadelphia (probably in his private office barely a dozen feet from where Oney slept), she lived the rest of her life as a fugitive. Ona Judge Staines died in Greenland, New Hampshire on February 25, 1848.
I don't think it's quite enough to say "Well, those were different times and people didn't realize what we do now..." In the first place, plenty of people realized exactly how terrible slaveholding was; the abolitionist movement had been growing for decades by then. In the second place, before we can comfortably "put it in perspective" we owe it to the victims of the slave system to feel in our gut how bad it was. It's easy to treat the abstract concept "slavery" as a chesspiece in the game of history; it's hard to read about this brave woman living her entire life as a fugitive because of George Washington and not feel a salutary rage.
posted by languagehat at 5:41 AM on March 18, 2006


(Obviously, I hadn't seen etaoin's comment when I wrote that. Well said, etaoin.)
posted by languagehat at 5:42 AM on March 18, 2006


Oh, and everybody piling up on George W. and company, if he hadn't risked his life, us Americans here might not have the freedom to sit here fat and happy, bitching about him and George Bush.

because we all know that the sex pistols were executed for recording "god save the queen" in totalitarian britain and mere possession of the record is worth 5 years in gaol ... and when i think of the oppression that canadians, austrailians and new zealanders suffer as part of the british commonweath, i shudder

seriously, this was an excellent and fascinating link ... oney sounds like a courageous and determined woman and george, being a product of his times, just didn't get it

run him down for that all you like, the fact remains that he was a much better man and president than a certain other george i can think of ...
posted by pyramid termite at 6:09 AM on March 18, 2006


Out of the southern founding father Washington had one of the more enlightened views on slavery. He favoured gradual emancipation and recognized that slavery would eventually tear the country apart. He also had all his slaves freed upon the death of his wife. Not that this absolves him of his crimes, but it is nice to know he was conflicted over the issue.
posted by afu at 6:44 AM on March 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


I recently read Joseph Ellis' His Excellency: George Washington (Ellis wrote Founding Brothers.) A lot of Washington's military success was due to luck in surviving disasters like Fort Necessity and the Braddock Expedition. He was really, really into farming. Most of his personal correspondence dealt with micromanaging his plantation.

His stepping down from the presidency established an important precedent for the country (some people wanted him to remain in power and even be king), but he also saved the country in the Newburgh Conspiracy in 1783, when officers of the Continental Army threatened to kick Congress out and set up martial law. (They hadn't been paid, and may have been bluffing.)

He made a surprise appearance at a meeting of the conspirators and made a short speech admonishing them, then started to read a letter from a Congressman, but had trouble reading it because of his fading vision. He pulled out some reading glasses, which his officers hadn't seem him wear, and said, "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only gone gray, but blind in the service of my country." This reminded them that he'd shared their sacrifices and shamed them into abandoning plans for a coup.

He also had all his slaves freed upon the death of his wife.

She owned most of their slaves because they were part of her dowry. Legally, he couldn't free them earlier.

the abolitionist movement had been growing for decades by then

Yet it was still a fringe movement at the beginning of the Civil War.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:21 AM on March 18, 2006


Yet it was still a fringe movement at the beginning of the Civil War.

Oh, sure—obviously it took a long time to gather enough strength to change the system (and it took the horrifying effects of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to win "ordinary citizens" over). I'm just pointing out it's disingenuous to claim that you can't expect Washington to have rejected slavery because "everybody back then" accepted it unquestioningly. A hundred years previous that would have been true enough, but not by the 1790s.
posted by languagehat at 8:34 AM on March 18, 2006


Languagehat, et. al: Washington himself finally came to reject slavery.

A very good book on this is Weineck's An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. Weineck shows how Washington's views evolved, from a typical amoral Virginia planter to the most enlightened of the founders. As a young man, Washington showed no sympathy at all for the black men and women he owned. As a trustee of a plantation estate that had to be broken up to satisfy creditors (including himself), he went so far as to help organize a lottery that divided the black families to maximize revenue.

The turning point for Washington was the Revolution. When he came north to take command of the revolutionary armies surrounding Boston, Washington was appalled to find slaves and free blacks armed and fighting side by side with white troops. He tried to forbid it--but to no avail. (It was constant annoyance to the hierarchical Washington to discover how little it meant to be in "command" of New England troops.) By the war's end Washington had come to respect many the thousands of black troops he had under his command. And this changed his views towards slavery.

When Washington freed his slaves at his death it was no small thing. Washington knew full well that he was setting a tremendous precedent. As word of his intent leaked out in the last year of his life, numerous relatives, politicians, and even his wife tried to intervene and talk him out of his rash act. He held firm. Yes, his will freed only his own slaves. But he also directed that those of his wife should be free after her death. Imagine the dynamic that created--Martha out in the countryside with over a hundred slaves who know that on her death, they will be free. No wonder she quickly freed them herself shortly after George's death.

This, to answer Deep Dish's question way upthread, is why Washington is worthy of our admiration. Though he began as a very typical creature of his times and social class, he had the ability to change for the better, and to change a nation along with him.
posted by LarryC at 9:08 AM on March 18, 2006


...and thanks for the terrific links, Gimonca. I am teaching a seminar on the colonial and revolutionary periods for a group of local teachers this semester, and I will introduce the story of Oney Judge at our next meeting!
posted by LarryC at 9:11 AM on March 18, 2006


Thanks for an excellent post, gimonca.
posted by UKnowForKids at 10:05 AM on March 18, 2006


Thank YOU, LarryC, for giving...the rest of the story.

Seriously, in the way you describe Washington, as a man who overcame the prejudices and inertia of his own time (in a variety of ways) and made a transcendent choice for good, that speaks to what the US indeed should be seeking to emulate. It makes Washington, indeed, a man worthy to be respected as the father of our nation.
posted by darkstar at 10:06 AM on March 18, 2006


Fascinating links and a very moving story. I was surprised to see that it's still a bit of a battle to stop heritage bodies glossing over that side of things. As Larry C says, it's interesting to see how people change and sometimes manage to throw off the typical beliefs of their times, but it's also important not to minimise what people like Oney Judge went through.
posted by Flitcraft at 10:08 AM on March 18, 2006


Excellent post, gimonica.
posted by darkstar at 10:09 AM on March 18, 2006


General George Washington, made his name threatening and then attacking what is now Canada

I realize that Mario Lemieux was there for a good while, but Pittsburgh is not, in fact, in Canada.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:13 AM on March 18, 2006


That's a moving comment, LarryC, and I'm not diminishing the importance of his freeing his slaves at his death, but I remind you that Ona ran away in 1796, long after the Revolution, and that unpleasant letter of his was written a couple of years after that. It's important not to exaggerate the extent of his change of heart.
posted by languagehat at 11:43 AM on March 18, 2006


I realize that Mario Lemieux was there for a good while, but Pittsburgh is not, in fact, in Canada.

In late June, Congress directed that action be taken against the British in Canada. Washington detailed the task to Benedict Arnold to attack Quebec. .

http://www.americanrevolution.com/BattleofQuebec.htm
posted by Deep Dish at 2:59 PM on March 18, 2006


Deep Dish, nobody's denying he attacked Canada during the Revolution. But you said he "made his name threatening and then attacking what is now Canada"; he'd made his name long before that, during the French and Indian War, attacking Fort Duquesne (i.e., present-day Pittsburgh) and points east. He was already famous by the time of the Revolution; that's why he was chosen to head the army. (Frankly, I've never understood why he kept being promoted, since his early military career was pretty much an unmitigated series of disasters, but that's another story.)
posted by languagehat at 3:15 PM on March 18, 2006


I'm vaguely shocked that people somewhat close to American centers of power believe slavery should be once again made legal.

Tax Freed Day 2006.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:20 PM on March 18, 2006


Freedom. Arrgh.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:21 PM on March 18, 2006


"Lemieux" is the best last name, get it, omg?!
posted by nonmerci at 7:44 PM on March 18, 2006


Yes, George III was a temporary evil and generally too crazy to cause much harm and hardship over the long term.

I hate when people pick on poor Farmer George.

a) He went crazy later, in the 1780s (very briefly) and later in the 1800s, due to a very sad illness, and

b) He was not a tyrant and his actions had little to do with the causes of the Revolution. He may have been seized on later as a symbol of tyranny, but the rebels initially actually wanted to form an American parliament under George III which would be equal to that in Westminster. (Much as the Canadians were granted a parliament in Ottawa under Victoria). The policies which the colonists objected to were largely brought in by that same Westminster Parliament (Britain had an elected government, remember). Now, I do believe George did not support independence or compromise, which did had an effect on the way the war played out.

But to claim he was some kind of monstrous tyrant is a cruel slander. He was a hardworking and serious king (though probably naive, as all kings were/are) who tried to do what he thought was best for his empire, and to this day is remembered fondly by people in Britain who are not skewed by propaganda and who were far more directly affected by his rule. Certainly he was a much better king than his son, and more beloved than any since William or Charles II, perhaps even since Elizabeth.

Oh, and everybody piling up on George W. and company, if he hadn't risked his life, us Americans here might not have the freedom to sit here fat and happy, bitching about him and George Bush.

No, you'd just have the freedom to sit around fat and happy and complaining about Steven Harper or Jean Chretien. The young United States broke away from a country which at the time was one of the few in Europe to have an open press and an elected government (though, of course, still on a limited franchise). In fact, had they waited a while, Westminster might have been happy to give them their own Parliament, as it did for Canada, Austrailia and New Zealand, those terribly oppressed colonies.

Cries of "Tyranny!" have to be understood in the context o the time - they had considerable freedoms, and were angry that these would be restricted at all. The colonists actually had had more representation in their colonial assemblies than the English (as many of the colonists still considered themselves) at home. They were angry that this was being impinged on by Westminster (and also that they were expected to pay taxes like other British citizens, and that the Catholics in Quebec would be allowed to remain Catholic, and that the Ohio valley was being kept for the Native people. Yes, the war was fought for religious intolerance and the seizing of native land, among other things.)

---------

Back more on topic:

One of the more interesting things I learned when studying the American Revolution is that, contrary to popular image, most of the more significant founding fathers in the American Revolution were not from New England (which is where the English at the time thought the rebellion was strongest), but from the middle and southern slave-owning colonies. Which makes sense, when you think that there were more large estate owners there, to provide political elites.

It's also interesting that when you read the newspapers and pamphets at the time, the language of slavery is ever present. The colonists continuing say "We will not be slaves!" "We are being treated as slaves!"

Of course, if you put this against the actual history, this sounds somewhat hysteric - and I can imagine it didn't make as much sense to those in Britain as it did to those in the colonies. But the colonists did believe that they were being made second-class citizens in the Empire (in many ways they weren't, they were actually just loosing a priviledged position, but it was their perception that they were), and they had such a vivid example of where being second-class might lead - their own slaves. When they are demanding "We will not be slaves!" they were saying, "We will not be treated as we treat our own slaves".

(NOTE: this is not to imply that only the Americans held slaves or supported slavery. At the time, more slaves lived in the British West Indies than in the whole of the 13 colonies, and Britain's economic power was heavily resting on the produce of her slave colonies. However, American colonists would have had more day to day relations with slaves than British people, and a more intimate understanding of what slavery meant.)
posted by jb at 3:07 AM on March 19, 2006


On later preview: Thank you to LarryC for his insight (being a historian of America).

That said, the language that you point out in the letter, languagehat isn't unlike that an English master would use of a disloyal free servant. I can imagine that, his evolving views on slavery aside, Washington was very angry at the "betrayel" from someone whom he saw as having been taking very good care of (and thus, in his mind, being ungrateful). It may say more about his ideas about heiracrhy than on slavery specifically. (Some people opposed slavery, for instance, without believing in racial equality.)
posted by jb at 3:18 AM on March 19, 2006


Sorry - to add to my comment about the British West Indies. There is evidence to suggest that the planters in the West Indies had the same complaints about Westminster policy as the 13 colonies, but they didn't rebell because they were too dependent on British markets for their products (and to buy food, clothes, etc), and because they may have feared rebellion among their slaves.
posted by jb at 3:20 AM on March 19, 2006


Great comment, jb. And this:

the war was fought for religious intolerance and the seizing of native land, among other things


is why the more I read about the "Revolution" (really a war of independence) the more I wonder, in a most un-American manner, whether it might not have been better for us to have lost it. The first thing we used our freedom for was dispossessing and killing Indians.
posted by languagehat at 5:06 AM on March 19, 2006


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