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Runaway Slave Ona Judge Staines


Life in New Hampshire

Ona, her husband, and their children; Eliza, Nancy, and William lived together until Jack's death in 1803. Seeking to support and provide shelter for her family, Ona accepted a position as a live-in maid for the Bartlett family of Portsmouth. Perhaps the dynamics of this situation too closely resembled her days as a slave because soon after she moved to Greenland, and took up residence with the family of John Jacks, her former guardians. By the time Ona and her children moved in, the matriarch Phillis had died leaving an aged John Jacks in the care of his two daughters, Nancy and Phillis, Jr. New boarders meant additional income and more hands to work in the home and garden.

The two families became interdependent in order to survive, but prospering in the small town of Greenland was difficult since work was scarce for people of color. William left home in the 1820s to become a sailor and never returned from sea. Eliza and Nancy contributed to the household income by working as servants in the homes of neighbors, but sadly these women died too young to care for their elders later in life. As age set in for Ona and the sisters Jack labor became physically unbearable. Outliving her daughters by fifteen years, aged Ona became a pauper, supported by the benevolent people of her community. Numerous receipts in the town vault of Greenland show that the women received yearly donations of firewood and other sundries.

Although Ona suffered much personal loss and economic hardship, freedom provided her with experiences and opportunities that she never would have had as a slave. For example, Ona lived with her family without the fear of being separated at Washington's whim. She frequently attended religious services at the church of her choice. She learned how to read. She had complete control over her time and could decide how to spend it, taking up hobbies like painting. She could come and go as she pleased. The ex-slave admitted that her life as a free woman was much more difficult than it would have been had she stayed with the Washingtons. However, when asked if she ever regretted leaving Mount Vernon, Ona replied "No, I am free, and have, I trust, been made a child of God by the means." She died on February 25, 1848.

Copyright © 2000 By Evelyn Gerson
Copyright © 2000 design & cyber publication
Top illustration of Washington slaves at Mount Vernon from Library of Congress


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