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Ona Judge's Daring Escape from Slavery

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

Ona Judge Outwits The Washingtons By Gwendolyn Hooks

Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons: An Enslaved Woman Fights for Freedom, written by Gwendolyn Hooks and illustrated by Simone Agoussoye, is the story of Ona Judge, an enslaved woman whose determination to be free helped her escape the bondage of George Washington, America's first president.

  • Recommended Ages: 9-12

  • Publisher: Capstone Editions

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2019

  • Where to Buy: Bookshop

Publisher's Description

Soon after American colonists had won independence from Great Britain, Ona Judge was fighting for her own freedom from one of America's most famous founding fathers, George Washington. George and Martha Washington valued Ona as one of their most skilled and trustworthy slaves, but she would risk everything to achieve complete freedom.

Born into slavery at Mount Vernon, Ona seized the opportunity to escape when she was brought to live in the President's Mansion in Philadelphia. Ona fled to New Hampshire and started a new life. But the Washingtons wouldn’t give up easily. After her escape, Ona became the focus of a years-long manhunt, led by America’s first president.

Gwendolyn Hooks’ vivid and detailed prose captures the danger, uncertainty, and persistence Ona Judge experienced during and after her heroic escape.


The story of Ona Judge reminds readers of how strong enslaved people were and how determined many were to be freed from the hardships of slavery. Ona's story also highlights the often glossed over fact that many of America's founding fathers and presidents enslaved human beings. The story begins as Ona is a small child working outdoors, longing to be near her mother who worked indoors. From there, her bondage at the Washington home takes twists and turns that creates a longing for Ona to be free. Through Ona's journey to freedom, readers get a peek into the constant fear enslaved people endured at the thought of being caught, punished, and dragged back into slavery. Gwendolyn Hooks gets real about the institution of slavery touching on the pain of children being sold away from their parents and of the devaluing of enslaved persons as dictated by the Constitution. These are important facts to share so that slavery is understood as the atrocity it was. The colors chosen for the illustrations are captivating and bring life to Ona's story. The style of the illustrations chosen for the book are reminiscent of folk art. It would be interesting to hear more about the chosen art style from both the author and illustrator. Ona Judge Outwits the Washingtons will make a great addition to any classroom or home library.

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