ONEY, MY ESCAPE FROM SLAVERY
by Diana Rubino and Piper Huguley
Teenaged Oney Judge was Martha Washington’s ‘favorite servant.’ Oney and Martha both longed for freedom, but in very different ways. Martha hated being confined to the president’s house, forced to entertain politicians and foreign diplomats. Oney hated being someone else’s property, forced to do labor and wait on her owners day and night.
After President Washington served one term as president, he wrote his farewell speech. He and Martha started packing for their retirement at Mount Vernon, but it was not meant to be. He was elected again—unanimously. He did not want to serve another term, but gave in under pressure.
Martha had no say in it whatsoever. But as she hosted her tea parties and levees, she became close friends with several forward-thinking women, such as Abigail Adams and Judith Murray, feminists of the time. Their radical ideas rubbed off on Martha—education and job training for women to be self-supporting instead of depending on husbands. By the end of George’s term, she experienced a steep character arc. She even changed her attitude toward slavery. When Oney escaped at age 20, at the end of George’s final term, Martha was very resentful: “She was more like a child to me than a servant.” The Washingtons knew that she’d escaped to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and made several attempts to recapture her. But in a sudden act of lenience, Martha gave up on Oney and let her remain free. During her husband’s presidency, Martha complained, “I am more like a state prisoner”, so perhaps she put herself in Oney’s place and realized she deserved liberty, too.
As our first First Lady, Martha Washington evolved from a grandmotherly wife and homebody to an outspoken champion of women’s rights. She provided freedom for her slaves at her death.
While living in Portsmouth, Oney married a sailor, Jack Staines, and had three children. She outlived her husband and children, and lived her remaining free life in Greenland, New Hampshire. Somewhat of a local celebrity, she lived in poverty, but the locals supported her and she took in sewing to supplement her meager income. She declared in an 1847 interview, “I am free now and choose to remain so.”
The hour finally came—while they ate dinner.
Nothing heavied my heart—not remorse, not guilt, not sadness upon fleeing my master and mistress. Raw thirst for freedom overcame all that. I walked straight past the Washingtons and out that door. When I shut it, I left them—and my forced bondage— behind me.
I tore through the muddy streets in pouring rain. Gasping for breath, soaked to the skin, my heart slamming in terror, I glanced behind me, again and again. No one pursued me—yet. I dreaded and expected pounding footsteps, a clap on my shoulder. But, I asked myself, who would chase me through the driving rain? No, it is not possible, I affirmed—they didn’t even know I’d left the kitchen.
At the Jones house I slowed and caught my breath. When Absalom opened the door, I staggered inside, laughing, sobbing, gulping for dear life.
I spent the night pacing the attic room, hands clasped. “I beg of you, dear God, walk beside me on this journey. See me through this safe. Don’t let them capture me. I only want to be your servant, no one else’s.”
As daybreak nudged away the darkness, I fell to my knees, weary with fatigue. “Thank you, dear God, for ending my final night of bondage.”
Serendipity at Work
In May 2014, popular romance author Brenda Novak had her annual auction for diabetes—authors donate books, critiques, etc., and people bid on them, similar to Ebay. I donated one of my other books, and I also donated a free manuscript critique. An author named Piper Huguley won the critique auction, but the auction ended and I never heard from her. I thought oh, well, she doesn’t want it after all. About 3 months later, she wrote me and sent me her story, A CHAMPION’S HEART, to critique. It’s a romance about an African American girl, set in rural Georgia in the 1910s. Very moving and powerful story. I loved it. It was published in 2016 by Liliaceae Publishers.
I’d been wanting to find an African American author to go over my Oney novel, but never looked for anyone. I thought of asking one of my grade school classmates, but just didn’t get to it…well, one day I decided to ask Piper.
Right after I asked her, she wrote back and said she’d be happy to help. Then I went on Facebook and saw that Piper just posted that her mother passed away that morning. So I sent her a message of condolence. Then she wrote this back to me:
And I appreciate your kind comments about my mother. You see, I see your request as “heaven sent” for I think I told you about how my mother told me about Oney. I know that she would want me to work on anything, do anything to forward that story. So, even in the midst of a difficult time, I look forward to helping you–something I really didn’t expect after you had helped me so much. Thank you for that.
I don’t remember her telling me that her mother told her about Oney. I’ve heard so many stories about people who pass away, and send ‘signs’ etc. to their loved ones, this was just too strange to be coincidence. Piper helped me a great deal with Oney’s story and became my co-author. We dedicated the book to her mother.
About Diana and Piper:
Diana writes about folks who shook things up. Her passion for history and travel has taken her to every locale of her stories, set in Medieval and Renaissance England, Egypt, the Mediterranean, colonial Virginia, New England, and New York. Her urban fantasy romance FAKIN’ IT won a Top Pick award from Romantic Times. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Richard III Society and the Aaron Burr Association. When not writing, she runs CostPro, Inc., an engineering business, with her husband Chris. In her spare time, Diana bicycles, golfs, plays her piano and devours books of any genre. She spends as much time as possible just livin’ the dream on her beloved Cape Cod.
Piper Huguley is a two-time Golden Heart ®finalist and is the author of the “Home to Milford College” series. The series follows the building of a college from its founding in 1866. Book #1 in the series, The Preacher’s Promise was named a top ten Historical Romance in Publisher’s Weekly by the esteemed historical romance author, Beverly Jenkins and received Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Contest of Self-Published e-books in 2015.
Her new series “Born to Win Men” starts with A Champion’s Heart as Book #1. A Champion’s Heart was named by Sarah MacLean of The Washington Post as a best romance novel selection for December 2016.
She blogs about the history behind her novels at http://piperhuguley.com. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and son.
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