Title: Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge
Author: Erica Armstrong and Kathleen Van Cleve
Read by: Robin Eller
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: Approximately 5 hours and 22 minutes
Source: Review Copy from Simon & Schuster. Thank-you!
You may know that George Washington, the father of our country, was a slave owner. What you may not know is that one of his slaves, Ona Judge, ran away while he was President and the Washingtons had a quest to recapture her spanning for years after she ran away.
This book is very straightforward on the fact that slavery was evil and has a good discussion about it at the beginning. Basically, that people try to justify it with the benevolent slave owner myth, but it is just a myth. People did not want to be enslaved. I loved that this gives a deeper background for kids on the founding of our country. We tend to give an over simplification of history to youth and leave out the details that may make our countries heroes look bad. I think we should show that not everyone is perfect and that we have a complicated history as a country that causes many of the issues of today.
Ona’s story is fascinating, but sadly a lot of the book is really about George and Martha Washington and inferences they can made on the life of Ona based on the Washingtons’ movements. That is sadly the case for most biographies about enslaved people. I did like that there was more information about Ona after she was a free woman from interviews she gave later in life.
This is a Young Reader’s Edition of the book. I was fascinated and want to read the adult version of the book. Parents may want to know that although this is a middle grade reader’s edition, there is still some frank talk in the book that children may not be prepared for depending on where they are at learning the facts of life. There is a discussion about whether Ona’s parents, a black slave woman and a white indentured man, were in love or whether it was rape. The word rape is used and there is a bit of discussion about it in general without getting explicit. I don’t think my 5th grade son would know what was going on if he read that part of the book and it will lead to questions. Just be aware. It is an interesting discussion of African American women and the terrible situation they were put into. Later in the book it also references why a white man may buy a black woman a house and give it to her, but the wording is very coy so I think it would go past young readers.
It made me sad to realize that when an enslaved woman had a child even if it was with a free man, that child was still considered to be property of the woman’s owners. This was the case for Ona herself and for her children after she married. She had to always live with the fear that not only could she be captured, but her children could be taken into captivity as well.
The author really didn’t seem to like Martha Washington and seemed to think George was more willing to give slave’s freedom than Martha. There didn’t seem to be any basis for this argument, but I’m assuming there may be letters or other documents backing up this assumption in the adult version of the book.
Robin Eller was a great narrator and I enjoyed listening to this audiobook on my commute. I learned so many interesting things and it was fun to share what I learned with my husband, Dad, and friends. I think this will be a future book to listen to on a family road trip.
Overall, Never Caught: The Story of Ona Judge is an important part of American history and is an enjoyable, informative audiobook.