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Oney Judge Staines: Washington’s Runaway Slave

March 28, 2013

Oney Judge Staines (c1773-1848) was born at Mt. Vernon Estate in Virginia as one of the dower slaves of Martha Custis Washington.  In 1789, when Washington was elected president, Oney was relocated to the presidential residence in Philadelphia.  She was a skilled seamstress and the personal slave of Martha Washington.  In 1796 she escaped from her enslaved life while the Washingtons ate dinner at their temporary home at 5442 Germantown Ave, today known as the Deshler-Morris House.

Judge eventually settled in Greenland, New Hampshire with the help of the free black community in Philadelphia. She took up residence with a free family and helped to care for their household. Oney Judge was spotted by Washington’s family friend, Elizabeth Langdon, on several occasions in New Hampshire who then alerted the Washingtons.

"Advertisement," The Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 24, 1796

“Advertisement,” The Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, May 24, 1796

Washington made several unsuccessful attempts to retrieve the fugitive slave at Martha’s request, but New Hampshire authorities were not helpful in the pursuit of Judge.  At the time the New Hampshire authorities feared demonstrations by the public who largely supported universal freedom for all.

In 1797, Judge met and married Jack Staines.  Oney and Jack had three children; Eliza, Nancy, and William.  After her husband’s death in 1803, Oney and her children struggled financially.   Oney and her daughters survived by working as servants for neighbors. Her son went to work as a sailor never returning to New Hampshire. Both of Oney’s daughters died before their mother. Oney Judge Staines lived her final years in poverty surviving on contributions of her community.

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