Audiobook Review: Never Caught: Erica Armstrong Dunbar


Never Caught

Narrated by Robin Miles

Published by Simon & Schuster Audio

A startling and eye-opening look into America’s First Family, Never Caught is the powerful narrative of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s runaway slave who risked everything to escape the nation’s capital and reach freedom.

When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital. In setting up his household he took Tobias Lear, his celebrated secretary and eight slaves, including Ona Judge, about whom little has been written. As he grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t get his arms around: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.

Though Ona Judge lived a life of relative comfort, the few pleasantries she was afforded were nothing compared to freedom, a glimpse of which she encountered first-hand in Philadelphia. So, when the opportunity presented itself, Judge left everything she knew to escape to New England. Yet freedom would not come without its costs.

At just twenty-two-years-old, Ona became the subject of an intense manhunt led by George Washington, who used his political and personal contacts to recapture his property.

With impeccable research, historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar weaves a powerful tale and offers fascinating new scholarship on how one young woman risked it all to gain freedom from the famous founding father.

Elsie’s Rating – ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Before listening to Never Caught, I knew that George and Martha Washington owned slaves. But, I suppose I thought about it on an elementary level and never sat down to think about his intimate involvement in slavery and what it says about Washington as a man and a human being. It doesn’t look or sound good for the country’s first president.

Never Caught centers around Ona Judge who was actually a mulatto slave handed down to Martha Washington through her first husband’s estate. With the fledgling country’s seat of government in the north, laws to abolish slavery were being passed. The Washington’s found themselves going through elaborate machinations to ensure they held tight to their human property.

This well-written story is at turns distressing and heart-rending. With few facts to go on, liberties had to be taken to flesh out Ona’s life as a slave and the predicaments she faced as a runaway. Slaves rarely had the time or capacity to put their thoughts to pen and paper.

What we have are Washington’s letters which express his anger and outrage at Ona fleeing her “benevolent caretakers”. It’s amazing the lengths Washington was willing to go to secretly engage services to seek the recapture of Ona.

Slavery is a sad part of our national history and this story drives home the hopelessness and despair every slave inevitably felt whether they served in the opulent homes of the wealthy owners or toiled in the plantation fields of the deep south.

Robin Miles narrates this 6 plus hour audiobook and she does a wonderful job conveying the feeling and emotions that Ona must have felt. Robin also hones right in on the self-righteous attitudes of George and Martha Washington, who in their minds felt they were kind, just and loving slave owners, what an oxymoron! The audio production, as well as the sound quality for Never Caught is perfect. I listened to the complete audiobook in one day!

I received this audiobook in exchange for an unbiased review!

Erica Armstrong Dunbar is the Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Black Studies and History at the University of Delaware. In 2011, Professor Dunbar was appointed the first director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia. She has been the recipient of Ford, Mellon, and SSRC fellowships and is an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer. Her first book, A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City was published by Yale University Press in 2008. She was born and raised in Philadelphia, reads all things related to African American History, and loves old school hip-hop.


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