Guilded Cage

Review: Oney: My Escape From Slavery by Diana Rubino and Piper Huguley

A gilded cage is still a cage.

According the prologue and author’s notes, Ona Judge Staines’ story is based on her own words. Rubino and Huguley told Oney’s story from being Martha Custis Washington’s personal slave, to her escape to freedom and living free for the rest of her life.

Despite the relative comfort Ona enjoyed as the first First Lady’s personal slave, the authors show us how devastating her status was. Though being treated kindly, Ona couldn’t know whether some innocent action or statement of hers would result in her being sent back to field work or being sold. Rubino and Huguley brilliantly showed us just how devastating being a slave was without having to show physical depravation.

Even though Ona wanted to be free, it took Ona overhearing a singular off-hand comment from Martha Washington for Ona to make the break for freedom.

We then learn of what happened to Ona as a free woman. I won’t spoil the story of what happened, except to say that Ona lived her adult life as a free woman and in spite of hardship, would not have traded that for slavery in comfort.

The one quibble I have is the emphasis on Ona’s slave years. I would have liked a fuller accounting of life as a free woman, especially to have her thoughts and feelings filled in as well as it was for her life in bondage.

In summary, I recommend this book. It kept me turning the page to see what comes next, and wishing I could have met Ona in life. I’m grateful to have met her in print.

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