Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge

Ages: 9 - 13Publisher: Simon & Schuster Author: Erica Armstrong DunbarIllustrator: Kathleen Van Cleve


Ona Judge was born into slavery on George and Martha Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation. At the age of ten, Ona was trained to work as Martha’s personal attendant and companion. And so, when George was elected to the presidency, that meant Ona was uprooted, too, and taken along to Philadelphia. Throughout the next decade, Ona provided the invisible labor that allowed Martha to succeed as the first First Lady of the United States. She cleaned and mended Martha’s clothing, kept Martha’s personal belongings organized, and most importantly, showed Martha a serene, dependable demeanor that helped to keep Martha emotionally stable throughout the stresses of public life. In the meantime, discussions of slavery were becoming more and more contentious in the new nation, and Ona could observe in Philadelphia that a life of enslavement was not the only option for a Black woman. When Martha decided to give Ona as a wedding gift to her grand-daughter Eliza, a woman widely despised for her sharp temper and selfishness, Ona decided she had had enough. It was time to escape. But Ona’s struggles did not end with her flight from slavery; she had escaped from the most prominent family in the nation, and they were determined to pursue her.

Never Been Caught was originally a biography written for an adult audience, and it is now splendidly adapted for a younger readership. Dunbar and van Cleve’s book gives young readers information about the Washingtons they may not have known. At the same time, it narrates a compelling story about a woman who helped to enable the Washingtons’ success, but who never lost her sense of dignity and desire for freedom. The narration helps readers imagine the culture shock Ona must have experienced moving between Mount Vernon, Philadelphia, and New York, while also pointing out to readers what historians can learn from primary sources and what they may never know. Young readers who are interested in history will be fascinated by this new adaptation.

Naomi Lesley ©2019 Parents’ Choice

Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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