From the new nation’s temporary capital of Philadelphia, where the president and first lady lived for nearly seven years, Martha tried to maintain her oversight of enslaved artisans who manufactured clothing for the laborers at Mount Vernon, but she increasingly criticized the work of the women she had supervised for years.
She described Charlotte, an enslaved seamstress, as “indolent,” and accused her of feigning illness. After reviewing one of the weekly work reports delivered to Philadelphia, Martha informed her husband that Caroline Branham, an enslaved housemaid and seamstress, had produced barely half the usual number of shirts, and he sent word that he would force the seamstresses to labor in the fields if they did not increase their output.
Within the president’s household, Martha experienced a more direct form of resistance when Ona Judge, her enslaved maid, escaped to New Hampshire. Hercules Posey, who had worked under Martha’s direction as the enslaved chef for the Washingtons in the capital, also escaped several months after he was sent back to Mount Vernon. The Washingtons made a considerable effort to recapture Judge and Posey, but both remained free.