Portrayed by Cathy Simpson
Oney Judge was one of the slaves to work for President and Lady Washington, first in the New York City capital and later in Philadelphia, when the capital moved there. Pennsylvania Law of the time gave slaves the legal power to free themselves if they were in the state longer than six months. But President Washington’s position was that Pennsylvania was only his residence because it was temporarily the capital, so the law was not considered applicable in his situation. A dower slave, owned by the estate of Martha Washington’s first husband, Oney could not expect to be freed by George Washington’s will, but would be transferred as property to Martha’s grandchildren upon the President’s death. When Oney learned that Martha Washington intended to offer her slave as a wedding present to her granddaughter, and that Oney’s transfer back to the south was imminent, Oney made a plan and carried it to fruition in 1796 by escaping north to New Hampshire on the ship, the Nancy. Since the Fugitive Slave Act made it a federal crime to assist a runaway slave, Oney Judge Staines lived as a fugitive for 52 years. Oney never regretted leaving the Washingtons, quoted as saying, “No, I am free and have, I trust, been made a child of God by the means.”
Cathy Simpson portrays Oney standing on the bough of the ship to New Hampshire. The audience shares Oney’s excitement as she watches her freedom grow and her slavery lessen. Like Oney, Cathy Simpson is proud of who she is and what it took for her to get here. Cathy’s Oney is a woman who embraced her obstacles and reclaimed her strength, working the system. She is a strong, capable woman encouraging us to discover our gifts and to have the courage to fulfill them.
• Educational Programs: Program with Press Conference for Schools, Libraries, Museums, Historic Sites
• Plays: The Women of President Washington’s Household – 45 minutes plus Q & A, Oney Judge, Martha Washington, Eliza Custis and Freewoman Mattie
• Pair with Martha Washington
• Cathy Simpson: Bio of Actor/Historian,