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*****= An all-time favorite
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****Taking Liberty

The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington’s Runaway Slave

by Ann Rinaldi

Reviewed January 1, 2003.
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2002. 267 pages.

Taking Liberty is an excellent historical novel, telling about Oney Judge, the “personal servant” of Martha Washington. 

What if you were a young intelligent woman, highly trusted and well-treated, given good food and clothing, but you were a slave?  Most novels about slavery have sordid, horrible details, which is usually fitting.  (Indeed, it seems yet more inevitable than in stories about a babysitter.)  This story is different.  If ever there were good slave owners, George and Martha Washington fit that description.  Yet Oney Judge, one of the most trusted and privileged slaves on the estate, chose to leave the Washingtons and a life of comparative luxury so she could be free.

The book tells the story of Oney’s life in slavery.  She was born on Mount Vernon and lived there during the Revolutionary War.  During George Washington’s two terms as President, she lived with the family in New York and Philadelphia.  The book has many fascinating historical details, as well as the tension of wondering how and when and why Oney will make the decision to take her liberty.

I was sorry that the book ended when she gained her freedom.  The part that follows would have been interesting.  The author does provide some notes telling us that Oney Judge lived in comparative poverty after she left the Washingtons, but that she turned down any chances to go back.  The Washingtons thought her very ungrateful.

This is an excellent novel.  It tells an interesting story, gives interesting historical details, and provokes the reader with the question “What is freedom worth?”

Another book by Ann Rinaldi:  Millicent's Gift

Copyright © 2003 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved. 
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