The best book I read this month was another edition of “our Founding Fathers were jerks”—this time about George Washington. The book, Never Caught, tells the story of Ona Judge, a woman enslaved by the Washingtons who successfully escaped to freedom.
As history books go, this one was relatively short—about 200 pages, not counting the copious notes and acknowledgements at the end. It was an easy read, too, thanks to Dunbar’s plain-spoken style.
What is remarkable about Judge, beyond her escape from the home and control of the president of the United States, is the amount of information available about her—including her own words. We have very little record of any enslaved persons from that time period. But not only have George Washington’s records and letters referring to Judge, we also have two interviews that she gave later in her life. (If you get the paperback version of the book, it includes transcripts of those interviews. They are not included in the hardcover edition.) It was because of these sources that Dunbar was able to craft this narrative. And as many historians do, she filled in the gaps with conclusions and inferences based on available data.
Dunbar does not sugarcoat Judge’s experiences, either, whether those experiences were working for the Washingtons or trying to survive as a fugitive free woman. Sometimes, in an effort to emphasize the risks and dangers Judge faced, Dunbar gets repetitive. But that was a small price to pay for the story of such a strong, determined woman.