Black Independence Day — July 3, 2008When: Thursday July 3, 2008 at 4:30 PMWhere: Site of the new Liberty Bell Center, 6th and Market Street, Philadelphia"THE 9 WILL SPEAK THE TRUTH WE SEEK"


Austin- Born between 1757-1759, he was approximately 32 years old when George Washington brought him to Philadelphia. He was about 15 years older than his half sister Oney Judge, whom Washington also delivered to Philadelphia. Austin was married to Charlotte, an enslaved seamstress, with whom he had five children. He toiled as a waiter, carriage footman, and probably stable worker who likely lived in slave quarters with two additional transported enslaved black laborers, namely Giles and Paris, and possibly another person. His death came on December 20, 1794 at around 36 years of age in Harford, Maryland.Christopher Sheels- Born circa 1774, he became Washington's sole attendant (i.e., "body servant") and was about 16 years old when brought to Philadelphia. He obviously was literate because, sometime in or about September 1799 at Mount Vernon, Virginia, a note written to him from an enslaved woman at another plantation was intercepted by Washington. The note included an escape plan that subsequently was foiled by Washington.Giles- Born around 1758, he was approximately 32 years old and served as a carriage worker and driver when brought to Philadelphia, where he apparently was housed in slave quarters with Austin, Paris, and possibly another person.

Hercules- Born sometime around 1750, he was Washington's thoroughly impressive chief cook who was about 40 years old when he was brought to Philadelphia. He was married to Alice, an enslaved seamstress at Mount Vernon. Together, they had three children, including Richmond. After Alice died in 1787, Hercules alone raised those children and probably had a fourth child later. Despite his renowned culinary talents and his "prominent" status in the president's household, Hercules knew that he was nothing more than a thing, a "species of property" to Washington. That is exactly why, sometime in March 1797 in Philadelphia, he escaped and remained forever "free" at some unknown location until some unknown death date.Joe (Richardson)- Also known as "Postilion Joe," he was born probably in 1769 and married a woman of his same age named Sall, a Mount Vernon enslaved seamstress. Together they had at least seven children. He was an approximately 26 year old presidential coach footman and stable worker when he was brought to Philadelphia on or about on October 20, 1796, which was five years after the other eight enslaved African descendants.Moll- Born circa 1739, she worked as a nanny to Martha's two youngest grandchildren and was about 51 when she was brought to Philadelphia. Moll was returned to Mount Vernon in 1797.Oney Judge- Born around 1774, she was the younger half sister of Austin. She labored as a seamstress and Martha Washington's personal servant. Oney was approximately 16 years old when delivered to Philadelphia. After discovering that she was to be given as a wedding gift, meaning as a mere thing, by Martha to Martha's eldest granddaughter, Oney finally had enough and planned an escape with the active assistance of Philadelphia's large relatively free black population. She executed the plan sometime between late May and June 1796, going from Pennsylvania, then apparently through New York, and ultimately settling in New Hampshire. Although Oney's escape was successful and permanent, it was not restful because Washington, as a result of Martha, was nearly unyielding in trying to track down and capture her. Despite Washington's and Martha's hounding, Oney, the married mother of three children, lived as an otherwise "free," albeit fugitive, woman until her death at about age 75 in Greenland, New Hampshire on February 25, 1848, nearly 50 years after Washington's 1799 and Martha's 1802 respective deaths.Paris- Born sometime around 1774, he was a stable worker at the Mt. Vernon plantation and later, when brought to Philadelphia at about the age of 16, likely was housed in slave quarters along with Austin, Giles, and possibly another person. After being taken back to Mt. Vernon in June of 1791, he died there in late September or October, 1794.Richmond- Born in 1776 or 1778, he was the son of Hercules and Alice. While in Philadelphia where he was brought at the approximate age of 13, he was a kitchen worker and chimney sweep. Four months before his father's successful Philadelphia escape in March 1797, Richmond apparently had an escape plan in Mt. Vernon that was uncovered and foiled.
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  • NYMetro

    An artist's overlay of the two rooms of the Slave Quarters (Open Shed and Smokehouse) onto the preceding photo. The dotted line matches the dotted line from the 1785 map.
    A brick pier for the Liberty Bell Center stands upon the footprint of the Slave Quarters (outlined in blue tape). Photo from the southeast.
    Levin taping off the northeast corner of the Slave Quarters.
    Another view of the southwest corner of the Slave Quarters and the main entrance to the Liberty Bell Center.
    The bricks indicate the southwest corner of the Slave Quarters. The main entrance to the Liberty Bell Center is less than five feet away.
    The exact dimensions shown on the 1785 map are measured on the paving of the entrance plaza of the Liberty Bell Center.
    Levin and Lawler measuring out the south wall of the Slave Quarters. At left, photographing, is IHA intern Jonathan Parker.
    Levin and Lawler consult the 1785 map in preparation for taping out the location of the Slave Quarters.
    Map showing the locations of the Liberty Bell Center and the President's House. The brown areas represent new construction for the Liberty Bell Center. The gray serpentine wall is also a recent construction. The Slave Quarters are marked in blue.
    Slave Quarters Photo Album
    On August 6, 2003, National Park Service archeologist Jed Levin and members of the Independence Hall Association met at the construction site of the Liberty Bell Center (opening date, October 9) to mark off the location of the Slave Quarters of the President's House. IHA (owner of ushistory.org) is the independent, citizens-advisory organization for INHP. This was the first time that the location of the Slave Quarters has been marked since their presumed demolition in the early 19th century. The two rooms were outlined with blue tape and, after extensive photographing, the blue tape was removed.
    This photograph shows the south side of the 500 block of Market Street in 1949. The President's House's surviving eastern wall is at center. The "ghost" of the mansion is outlined in red. From the Evening Bulletin Newspaper Collection, Urban Archives, Temple University.
    Enslaved Africans in the President's House
    General Information
    • Oney Judge Newspaper Articles, 1840s
    • President's House Slavery: By the Numbers
    • Slavery in the President's House
    • Washington, the Enslaved, and the 1780 Law
    Slave Quarters at the President's House
    • The Slave Quarters
    • The Slave Quarters Frequently Asked Questions
    • Slave Quarters Photo Album
    • Oney Judge
    • Moll
    • Austin
    • Hercules
    • Richmond
    • Giles
    • Paris
    • Christopher Sheels
    • Joe (Richardson)
    Two 1840s Articles on Oney Judge
    On this page:
    • "Washington's Runaway Slave"
    • 1846 interview with Ona Judge Staines
    "Washington's Runaway Slave"
    from The Granite Freeman, Concord, New Hampshire (May 22, 1845); reprinted in Frank W. Miller's Portsmouth New Hampshire Weekly, June 2, 1877, under the title "Washington's Runaway Slave, and How Portsmouth Freed Her." Author: Rev. T.H. Adams
    There is now living in the borders of the town of Greenland, N.H., a runaway slave of Gen. Washington, at present supported by the County of Rockingham. Her name at the time of her elopement was ONA MARIA JUDGE. She is not able to give the year of her escape, but says that she came from Philadelphia just after the close of Washington's second term of the Presidency, which must fix it somewhere in the [early?] part of the year 1797.
    Being a waiting maid of Mrs. Washington, she was not exposed to any peculiar hardships. If asked why she did not remain in his service, she gives two reasons, first, that she wanted to be free; secondly that she understood that after the decease of her master and mistress, she was to become the property of a grand-daughter of theirs, by name of Custis, and that she was determined never to be her slave.
    Being asked how she escaped, she replied substantially as follows, "Whilst they were packing up to go to Virginia, I was packing to go, I didn't know where; for I knew that if I went back to Virginia, I should never get my liberty. I had friends among the colored people of Philadelphia, had my things carried there beforehand, and left Washington's house while they were eating dinner."
    She came on board a ship commanded by CAPT. JOHN BOLLES, and bound to Portsmouth, N.H. In relating it, she added, "I never told his name till after he died, a few years since, lest they should punish him for bringing me away. …"
    Washington made two attempts to recover her. First, he sent a man by the name of Bassett to persuade her to return; but she resisted all the argument he employed for this end. He told her they would set her free when she arrived at Mount Vernon, to which she replied, "I am free now and choose to remain so."
    Finding all attempts to seduce her to slavery again in this manner useless, Bassett was sent once more by Washington, with orders to bring her and her infant child by force. The messenger, being acquainted with Gov. [then Senator John] Langdon, then of Portsmouth, took up lodgings with him, and disclosed to him the object of his mission.
    The good old Governor. (to his honor be it spoken), must have possessed something of the spirit of modern anti-slavery. He entertained Bassett very handsomely, and in the meantime sent word to Mrs. Staines, to leave town before twelve o'clock at night, which she did, retired to a place of concealment, and escaped the clutches of the oppressor.
    Shortly after this, Washington died, and, said she, "they never troubled me any more after he was gone. …
    The facts here related are known through this region, and may be relied on as substantially correct. Probably they were not for years given to the public, through fear of her recapture; but this reason no longer exists, since she is too old and infirm to be of sufficient value to repay the expense of search.
    Though a house servant, she had no education, nor any valuable religious instruction; says she never heard Washington pray, and does not believe that he was accustomed to. "Mrs. Washington used to read prayers, but I don't call that praying.["] Since her escape she has learned to read, trusts she has been made "wise unto salvation," and is, I think, connected with a church in Portsmouth.
    When asked if she is not sorry she left Washington, as she has labored so much harder since, than before, her reply is, "No, I am free, and have, I trust been made a child of God by the means.["]
    Never shall I forget the fire that kindled in her age-bedimmed eye, or the smile that played upon her withered countenance, as I spake of the Redeemer in whom there is neither "bond nor free," bowed with her at the mercy seat and commended her to Him "who heareth prayer" and who regards "the poor and needy when they cry," I felt that were it mine to choose, I would not exchange her possessions, "rich in faith," and sustained, while tottering over the grave, by "a hope full of immortality," for tall the glory and renown of him whose slave she was.
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