2017 National Book Award Finalist, Nonfiction

Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar Erica Armstrong Dunbar
Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
(Atria / 37 INK / Simon & Schuster)

ISBN: 9781501126390

National Book Foundation: Why did you write this book?
Erica Armstrong Dunbar: It is an honor and an obligation to give a voice to the unknown. As an historian, I spend countless hours rescuing women from historical anonymity and while I wrote Never Caught for multiple reasons, the driving force was to introduce Ona Judge and her life to the world. She was one of the millions of enslaved women who found a way to survive, to live, and to love under the brutality of slavery. It became immediately clear to me that Never Caught could also tell the incredible story of the founding of the nation through the eyes of the enslaved and by centering a black woman’s experiences, readers have an opportunity to reimagine our American narrative.
Foundation: What’s your favorite bookstore or library?
Armstrong Dunbar: My favorite library is the Library Company of Philadelphia− America’s first successful lending library and oldest cultural institution. Founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731, it served as the Library of Congress from the Revolutionary War to 1800. Now, the Library Company of Philadelphia is an independent research library that concentrates on American history and culture from the 17th-19th centuries. The powerful African Americana collection holds more than 13,000 rare books, pamphlets, albums that allow researchers, writers, and historians to rethink and reshape our understanding of the past.

judges' citation

In her narrative about Ona Judge’s escape from the household of George Washington only to be ruthlessly, if futilely, pursued by the father of our country, historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar tells us more than the story of our nation’s first president and his attitude toward an exceptional Black bondswoman. Never Caught also illumines a history of liberty-loving Black communities in a country founded on the twin bedrock of slavery and freedom.


A startling and eye-opening look into America’s First Family, Never Caught is the powerful narrative of Ona Judge, George and Martha Washington’s runaway slave who risked everything to escape the nation’s capital and reach freedom.

About the Author

Erica Armstrong Dunbar is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History at Rutgers University. She also serves as Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Her first book, A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City was published by Yale University Press in 2008.


- WEBSITE: ericaarmstrongdunbar.com

- TWITTER: @ericaadunbar

(Photo credit: Whitney Thomas)


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