Cover image for The escape of Oney Judge : Martha Washington's slave finds freedom
The escape of Oney Judge : Martha Washington's slave finds freedom
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.
Physical Description:
1 v. (unpaged) : col. ill. ; 29 cm.
Reading Level:
770 L Lexile
Personal Subject:
Young Oney Judge risks everything to escape a life of slavery in the household of George and Martha Washington and to make her own way as a free black woman.


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When General George Washington is elected the first President of the United States, his wife chooses young Oney Judge, a house slave who works as a seamstress at Mount Vernon, to travel with her to the nation's capital in New York City as her personal maid. When the capital is moved to Philadelphia, the Washingtons and Oney move, too, and there Oney meets free blacks for the first time. At first Oney can't imagine being free - she depends on the Washingtons for food, warmth, and clothing. But then Mrs. Washington tells Oney that after her death she will be sent to live with Mrs. Washington's granddaughter. Oney is horrified because she knows it is likely that she will then be sold to a stranger - the worst fate she can imagine. Oney realizes she must run. One day she sees an opportunity and takes it, ending up in New Hampshire, where she lives the rest of her life, poor but free.

Pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations bring to life this picture book biography of Oney Judge, a young woman who, in the end, has no mistress but herself.

The Escape of Oney Judge is a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Author Notes

Emily Arnold McCully was born in Galesburg, Illinois on July 1, 1939. She graduated from Pembroke College, now a part of Brown University, in 1961 and received an M.A. in art history from Columbia University.

After graduation, she held a variety of jobs in the art field that included being a commercial artist, a designer of paperback covers, and illustrating advertisements. When one of her illustrations was seen on an advertisement in the subway, she was asked to illustrate Greg Panetta's Sea Beach Express. She accepted that offer and went on to illustrate over 100 children's books. In 1969, she illustrated Meindert de Jong's Journey from the Peppermint Express, which was the first children's book to receive the National Book Award.

Her first solo venture, Picnic, won the Christopher Award in 1985. Mirette on the High Wire won the Caldecott Medal in 1993. Her other children's books include Amazing Felix, Crossing the New Bridge, Grandmas at the Lake, My Real Family, and The Pirate Queen.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 2-4-Drawing on well-documented accounts of Martha Washington's runaway slave, McCully's fictionalized retelling focuses on Oney Judge's childhood and early adult years. Favored by her mistress, the girl is separated from her mother when Washington becomes president and moves his family from Mount Vernon to New York and then to the new capital in Philadelphia. The watercolor paintings, often circular cameos on the page, along with the text, create a good sense of household life and the rising issues of slavery in these early days of the new republic. McCully uses Oney's growing awareness of the meaning and importance of freedom as a theme throughout the story. Running away first as a teenager, Oney must run again when she's nearly caught after she has married and become a young mother. Her story here ends a bit inconclusively with the promise of lifelong freedom. "Several months later, President Washington died and his wife gave up on ever owning her maid again." McCully follows this somewhat abrupt finish with an author's note sketching in a bit more about Oney's subsequent long life.-Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Horn Book Review

Ten-year-old slave Oney appreciates that her mistress, Martha Washington, treats her well, but as she matures and her circumstances change with the times, she grows determined to become free. The subject matter is compelling, but the pages are text-heavy and the telling is rather banal. Meanwhile, the art is delicate and detailed though not especially sure-handed. Bib. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Review

Just in time for Washington's Birthday comes this tale of young Oney Judge, personal slave to Martha Washington, and her quest for freedom. Although Martha treats her well, saying she's "become like another of our children," Oney knows better and longs to control her own destiny. When the Presidential household moves to Philadelphia and Oney sees free blacks for the first time, she begins to imagine that this might be a possibility--and eventually steals her freedom, escaping north. McCully doesn't pull many punches, explaining that Oney's favored position in the Washington household is because of her light skin, and revealing a vain, self-satisfied Mrs. Washington. The story is rendered in the Caldecott Medalist's signature delicate watercolors, which revel in the swags and flounces of period detail. Oney herself is a slight, be-freckled figure who gazes out from under her mobcap with determination and pride. Straightforward and unapologetic in delivery, this offering stands as a noteworthy effort to add complexity to the mythology surrounding the country's first president--a mythology rarely leavened with unpleasant truth for readers this young. Gutsy--and very nicely done. (author's note, bibliography) (Picture book. 5-10) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Children familiar with the sterling qualities of George Washington, and to a lesser degree, Martha, may be startled to learn that both were slaveholders--Martha's inherited from her first husband. Martha takes an interest in one of her slaves, 10-year-old Oney, allowing her to become one of Mount Vernon's seamstresses. When Washington becomes president, Oney moves with the family to Philadelphia and, for the first time, meets free blacks and Quakers who are agitating for emancipation. As a young woman, Oney learns she will be given to one of her mistress's relatives after Martha's death, so Oney decides to run away. She makes her way to New Hampshire, where she eventually marries. At the top of her game, McCully takes a rather sophisticated piece of history and writes it in a way that will draw in children. They'll understand that although Oney's existence as a slave is better than most, it's punctuated by incidents that show that her life isn't her own: Martha turns down Oney's request to earn extra money as a seamstress and laughs merrily at Oney's desire to read. Even after Oney is free, she fears being tricked or taken back by the Washingtons, who never quite forget about her. The bright, eye-catching watercolor-and-ink artwork makes the story even more accessible, and an informative note adds to the text. Fascinating history. --Ilene Cooper Copyright 2006 Booklist