This is a transcript from Founders Online. Because the letter is torn and faded, many of the words are not readable.
Sometime ?between illegible?ment to the walks of ?private illegible? girl*, the body servant of Mrs Washington?,? absconded without the least pr?ovocation? and without our having ?illegible sus?picion of such, her intention ?illegible? whither she had gone.
At length, we learnt ?illegible? got to Portsmouth in New H?ampshire; in? consequence of this information ?illegible? authentic) I wrote to the Collect?or of the? Port, Mr Whipple requesting ?illegible? use proper means to restore ?her to her? Mistress. At first, according to ?illegible? she appeared willing to return: ?illegible? the Vessel in which she was to ?illegible? about to sail, she concealed ?illegible? one difficulty and delay ?illegible?ther, so as to keep her Mistress ?from illegible? Services until this time.
If, under this statement of ?illegible? intention (as declared when here) of ?illegible? Portsmouth, you could by any easy ?illegible?self & proper means, be the ?illegible? of recovering, & forwarding the ?illegible? place, it would be a pleasing circumstance to your Aunt.
I do not however wish you to undertake anything, that may involve ?illegible? unpleasant, or troublesome ?illegible.? The girl, as we have been ?illegible? was enticed away by a Frenchman, ?illegible? her, she was willing to come back; but ?illegible? other connexions, wan?illegible? conditions to her return, afterwards.
This I could not then, nor will ?I? agree to; further than that, if she put?s me? to no unnecessary trouble and expence; ?and? conduct?s? herself well for the time ?illegible? she will escape punishment for the ?illegible?, & be treated according to her merit?s illegible?. To promise more, would be ?an im?politic & dangerous precedent. Your Aunt unites with me in ?best wishes? for you; and I am—Dear Sir Your obedt & Affecte Servant
*She went by the name of Oney Judge
From George Washington to Burwell Bassett, Jr., 11 August 1799,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-04-02-0197. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 4, 20 April 1799?–?13 December 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 237–238.]
Consider the following questions when reading this letter:
- Why might Washington want to re-enslaved Ona Judge?
- What laws technically allow Washington to track down Ona Judge? (hint: think 1793)
- Some people think Washington's views on slavery changed while he was President. Does this help or hurt this argument?
- How might enslaved people resist enslavement?
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This letter was written by George Washington about Ona Judge. Ona Judge was enslaved at the Mount Vernon Mansion and the Presidential Mansion. When she was in Philadelphia with the Washingtons, she sought her own freedom and traveled north to New Hampshire.
Washington was furious and spent a long time trying to get her back. This letter - written to Burwell Bassett Jr.* - describes Washington's frustrations with the situation and the steps he planned to take to re-enslave her.
*Burwell Bassett Jr. was Martha Washington's nephew.