Thursday, February 16, 2017

Freedom Fighters

Only after reading Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life five years ago did I realize how remarkably ambitious, courageous and forceful a fellow was the Father of Our Country.

No wonder he was admired by his white contemporaries.

His 153 slaves may have held a different opinion of him.

When he was president and living in Philadelphia, his wife Martha's maid Oney ran away in the middle of a fancy dinner party, escaping by boat to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Washington—as he always did with runaways—took Oney's flight as a personal affront.

He placed ads in newspapers offering $10 for the return of “a light Mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy hair.”

And when he learned Oney was in Portsmouth, Washington dispatched a federal customs officer to fetch the her—breaking a fugitive slave law he himself had signed.

When the customs officer located Oney, he got her to agree to return voluntarily to the president's household, provided she be freed on her mistress' death.

Washington called the demand "totally inadmissible."

Fearing riots by Abolitionists, the customs officer refused to return Oney to her master.

Washington next tried to get her back by hiring his nephew to kidnap her. But the runaway was tipped off to the plan and went into hiding until Washington's death.

She lived for another 50 years as a fugitive in Portsmouth, raising three children on the wages of a house servant.
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