Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ona Judge: "A thirst for compleat freedom"

Ona Judge Staines (escaped from slavery, 21 May 1796)

On 23 May 1796, a runaway slave notice appeared in The Pennsylvania Gazette--according to the notice, a "light mulatto girl, much freckled," had "absconded" from her owners.

On the one hand, there is nothing very unusual about this "advertisement"--which described the escaped slave as having "very black eyes" and "bushy hair," as being "delicately formed" and "about 20 years of age," and of taking with her "many changes of good clothes, "of all sorts."

Advertisement noting the "absconded" slave,
Oney Judge, dated 23 May 1796 and published
23 May 1796, The Pennsylvania Gazette
It's easy enough to find thousands of similar runaway slave "advertisements" online. The North Carolina Runaway Slave Advertisement database, for example, provides access to more than 2300 such notices, "published in North Carolina newspapers from 1751 to 1840." 

Similarly, the Geography of Slavery database provides access to "more than 4000 advertisements for runaway slaves and indentured servants, drawn from newspapers in Virginia and Maryland, covering the years from 1736 through 1803."

So, the advertisement for this "absconded" slave is just one of thousands of such published notices. According to the notice, she "had no provocation" for running away, and a reward is offered to anyone "who will bring her home."

What makes the ad notable is not its content, then, but its source: As the advertisement specifies, the young woman has escaped from the household of "the President of the United States."

Yes, the woman who escaped, Ona Judge, was one of the enslaved people in the household of George Washington, who was then serving as the President of the United States. 

Ona Judge was a personal slave of Martha Washington  Ona had been one of the slaves who belonged to Martha's first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, and when Martha married George Washington, she brought these slaves, including Ona, with her to Mount Vernon.

(George Washington himself inherited and purchased slaves; at the time of his death in 1799, he owned 123 enslaved people. Also at the time of his death, 153 enslaved persons belonged to Martha, forming part of the Custis estate. Washington also "rented" slaves from their owners. More than 300 enslaved people were working for Washington at the time of his death.)

In 1789, George Washington took a number of his slaves with him to New York; when the new federal capital was moved to Philadelphia, he took his slaves, including Ona, with him. But according to the Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780, all slaves residing in the state for more than six months could free themselves. 

Slaveholders had found away around this act, however, by rotating their slaves in and out of the state. A 1788 amendment to the Gradual Abolition Act closed this loophole--but Washington (and other members of the government) found a way around the act and its amendment, claiming that the legislation applied, in strict interpretation, only to members of the legislative branch of the new federal government. Members of the judicial branch and the executive branch--including Washington, as president--were exempt.

And so, as Mary V. Thompson writes, "George Washington showed that he, a man whose reputation was built on honesty, would lie to protect property rights." 

Washington acted to prevent his slaves' emancipation: “it behoves me to prevent the emancipation of them," he wrote. The Washingtons decided to rotate their slaves in and out of Pennsylvania, George Washington made sure his slaves did not spend the six-month residency period in the state, and he made sure he disrupted his own residency, so that the law could not be interpreted to refer to him. The "solution," he said, was done “under pretext that may deceive both them and the Public.”

But this solution, however clever, did not fool Ona. Once again about to be shipped off to Virginia, where she was to be given as a wedding present to Martha Washington's granddaughter, Ona Judge fled on 21 May 1796. The Washingtons made a great deal of effort to recover their "property," but they were not successful.

Ona Judge, born about the year 1773, escaped to New Hampshire, where she married, had children, and learned to read and write. She died on 25 February 1848.

Ona Judge Staines was interviewed in the mid-1840s, her published interviews detailing her life, her experiences as a slave owned by the Washingtons, her escape, and her subsequent life as a fugitive slave--she was never freed by the Washingtons and thus she, and her children, always lived with the possibility of being returned to the Washingtons' heirs under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act.

When asked whether she regretted her escape and the difficulties of her later life, she replied, "No. I am free."

For an excellent article by Mary V. Thompson, "William Lee and Oney Judge: A Look at George Washington and Slavery," Journal of the American Revolution, click here

You may also want to look at Erica Armstrong Dunbar's new analysis of the life of Ona Judge Staines, Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge." For a link to an interview about her book, click here.

(I'd always heard Ona Judge referred to as "Oney," the name used in the runaway slave notice--Dunbar is careful to restore her full name, not the diminutive used by those who held her as a slave.)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Nicholaa de la Haye, Defender of Lincoln Castle

Nicholaa de la Haye, castellan of Lincoln (second battle of Lincoln, 20 May 1217)

Nicholaa de la Haye (c. 1150-1230) was the eldest daughter of Richard de la Haye, a Lincolnshire lord, and Matilda de Vernon, the daughter of William de Vernon. Unusual for thirteenth-century women, she played a notable role during the tumultuous reign of the English king John. 

Tomb effigy identified as Nicholaa de la Haye
 St. Michael Church, Swagon,

The year of her birth is not at all clear, but is generally estimated to have been between 1150 and 1156.

At the time of her father's death in 1169, she is one of his three co-heirs; her two younger sisters inherit her father's Norman holdings, Nicholaa her father's English estates, including those in Lincolnshire.

She also inherited a claim to the title of castellan of Lincoln Castle, a position previously held by her father and grandfather, received by royal grants

Nicholaa de la Haye is known to have been married, first, to William fitz Erneis, who died by 1178, and with whom she seems to have had one child, a daughter. She later married Gerard de Camville, probably before 1185, giving birth to two sons and a daughter or maybe two daughters--there is some uncertainty here. (Gerard's father, Richard de Cambille, was the admiral for Richard I's fleet of ships during the Third Crusade.)

By right of marriage to Nicholaa, both her first and second husbands controlled Lincoln Castle and the claim to the wardship of Lincoln Castle--in 1189, Gerard's claim on the title was affirmed by a charter granted by Richard I. (Nicholaa de la Haye may also have had a claim to the title of sheriff of Lincoln--it's a title her husband claimed in her right, but it was not mentioned in the royal charter.) But Nicholaa does not seem to have ceded all interest and control in this role.

In 1191, during Richard's absence from England during the Third Crusade, his brother John rebelled, and Gerard joined his forces at Nottingham Castle. During his absence, he left Nicholaa at Lincoln, her role to defend the castle, which she did, holding out for forty days against the siege undertaken by William Longchamp, Richard's lord chancellor.

As reported by the chronicler Richard of Devizes, "Nicholaa, not thinking about anything womanly, defended … [Lincoln] castle manfully." She did not yield her castle--the siege was broken when John's castles at Nottingham and Tickham fell. Hmmmm--it would seem that her castle was not quite  defended manfully . . . The men surrendered!

After the rebellion, Gerard was excommunicated, and in 1194, when Richard finally returned to England, Nicholaa's estates were forfeit, as was the claim to wardship of the castle. The two had to buy back their holdings with the payment of a considerable fine

When John came to the throne in 1199, after Richard's death, the position of castellan was returned to Gerard, in his wife's right. But after her husband's death in 1215, Nicholaa de la Haye assumes a more prominent role in politics. 

In the summer of 1216, during yet another period of tumult, this time barons rebelling against John, England was invaded by the French,  under the command of Louis of France, "the Lion" (later Louis VIII), who was claiming title to the English throne. Nicholaa de la Haye secured the safety of Lincoln by purchasing a truce from the invaders.

A thirteenth-century manuscript illustration
of the battle of Lincoln;
from Matthew Paris's history, Chronica majora
The embattled king made a visit to Lincoln in September 1216. His meeting with Nicholaa, then a woman of about fifty or sixty, is described in a chronicle later preserving the testimony of witnesses:
And once it happened that after the war King John came to Lincoln and the said Lady Nicholaa went out of the eastern gate of the castle carrying the keys of the castle in her hand and met the king and offered the keys to him as her lord and said she was a woman of great age and was unable to bear such fatigue any longer and he besought her saying, "My beloved Nicholaa, I will that you keep the castle as hitherto until I shall order otherwise."
On 18 October of that year, just hours before his death, King John appointed Nicholaa de la Haye to the position of sheriff of Lincoln, About this unusual appointment, Louise Wilkinson notes, "The appointment of a woman as a sheriff was highly unusual in an age when women, as members of ‘the weaker sex,’ were usually barred from public life. Lady Nicholaa’s appointment as sheriff in Lincolnshire in 1216 owed a great deal both to her inherited lands and connections, and to her strong track record of loyal service to King John."

John's trust in Nicholaa's strength, courage, and loyalty proved to be well-placed. When John died on the night of 18/19 October, his nine-year-old son became king, but the country was still engulfed in rebellion. 

Once again, Nicholaa de la Haye defended Lincoln Castle for the king--this time, she held the castle for the new English king, Henry III, for several months against the besieging forces of the rebellious English barons and the French prince. 

The great English knight, the seventy-year-old William Marshall, arrived to relieve the castle--the second battle of Lincoln, fought on 20 May 1217, defeated the opposition forces. Nicholaa's defense of the castle and her aid to the royalist army were crucial in William Marshall's victory.

Of course, Nicholaa de la Haye's reward for her courage and fidelity was great. NAAAAH!!! Who are we kidding here???? Four days after the battle, she was removed as sheriff of Lincoln, the position given to the king's uncle, the earl of Salisbury, who not only took control of the city and of the castle, but attempted to control Nicholaa herself--he promptly married off Nicholaa's granddaughter and heiress, Idonea, to his son.

Even then, Nicholaa de la Haye did not surrender. In Wilkinsons' words, "Time and time again, Nicholaa was called upon to defend her home as the earl tried, ultimately unsuccessfully, to wrest control of Lincoln castle from Nicholaa, first by force and later by offering hostages. Nicholaa relinquished control of Lincoln castle for the last time in June 1226 and died peacefully at her Lincolnshire manor of Swaton in 1230."  

It may not count for much, but, in the end, she survived Salisbury by four years. 

She is buried there in St. Michael's Church. 

There is no biography of Nicholaa de la Haye, but you can access Wilkinson's excellent essay, from "Women of Magna Carta," by clicking here

A more extended account of Nicholaa de la Haye is in Wilkinson's Women in Thirteenth-Century Lincoln.

If you are interested, the In Our Time podcast commemorating the Battle of Lincoln includes an account of Nichcolaa de la Haye's role; to listen, click here.

A plaque commemorating Nicholaa de la Haye,
Linoln Castle