What did the book Never Caught reveal about George and Martha Washington as slaveholders? How did the Washingtons circumvent emancipation laws in Pennsylvania?

The book Never Caught details the life of Ona Judge, the enslaved woman who served as a body servant to Martha Washington and accompanied the First Family when they moved from Virginia to Philadelphia during George's first term as President.

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Never Caught gives us a vivid insight into the Washingtons as slave-owners. On the one hand, they generally treated their slaves considerably better than most slave-owners of the time. Yet on the other hand, they proved to be utterly tenacious in doing everything they could to hang onto their "property," come what may.

To a considerable extent, this paradox is down to the situation regarding slavery in Philadelphia at that time. As a hot-bed of abolitionism, Philadelphia's population was generally hostile to slavery, and so when the Washingtons moved there after George became President—Philadelphia was the American capital at this time—they had to be circumspect about their ownership of slaves. They only took a handful of slaves with them after the Inauguration, one of whom was Ona Judge, the First Lady's body servant and the protagonist of this remarkable real-life story.

A gradual abolition law had been passed in Pennsylvania in 1780, which made the Washingtons' position even more difficult. However, they managed to find a way around the relevant legislation by cynically transporting their slaves in and out of the state every six months in order to avoid giving them legal residency.

Although (as we've seen) the Washingtons generally treated their slaves quite well, they still saw them as pieces of property to be bought and sold. In 1796, Ona discovered that Mrs. Washington planned to give her away as a wedding gift to her granddaughter.

This brought home to Ona how all slaves, even those ostensibly well-treated, even those belonging to the household of the President of the United States, had absolutely no control over their own lives, no matter how loyally they served. News of her impending departure from the Washington household provided the catalyst for Ona's decision to escape, as she realized that this was the only way she'd ever be able to gain some measure of control over her life.

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