Shackled at The President’s House

Story by: TANISHA LAMPART / Bok Technical High School

Photo by: JOVAN LONGS-TUCKER / Central High School

The President’s House offers a visual documentation of its unique history.

General George Washington helped America win its freedom from England. But when Washington served as the first president of the United States and lived in Philadelphia, where he held slaves.

Washington lived in a mansion located on Market Street near 6th Street now known as the President’s House. Washington held nine slaves in that house while presiding in Philadelphia along with two white indentured servants.

Two of those slaves escaped gaining the freedom that America’s first president would not give them.

“Blacks represent the true meaning of freedom. They were always trying to figure out how to get free,” Karen Warrington said.

Warrington was a member of the official oversight committee responsible for the erection of the first memorial on federal property recognizing slavery along with the re-creation of America’s first White House here in Philadelphia — the President’s House.

The enslavement of African-Americans was legal in all thirteen of the American colonies before the Revolutionary War. Slavery existed in the United States until the end of the Civil War. Whites had large sums of money invested in getting African-Americans in slavery which produced a lot of the wealth that helped America become a powerful nation.

Those two slaves who escaped President Washington were named Hercules and Oney Judge. Hercules was a famous cook and Oney Judge was the maid of  Washington’s wife.

Judge fled when the Washingtons were planning to return to Virginia. She feared being gifted to the First Lady’s granddaughter as a wedding present and thought if she returned to Virginia she would never be free. She escaped to freedom from Philadelphia in late May or June, 1796. She died in Greenland, New Hampshire February 25, 1848.

Hercules escaped to freedom from Washington’s Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon, in 1799.

The stories of Oney Judge, Hercules and the other slaves Washington held in the President’s House are important for both history and inspiring people today said attorney Michael Coard, who led a Philadelphia activists’ organization that helped push the federal government to build the slave’s memorial at the President’s House located next to the Liberty Bell.

Coard said now that children visiting the Liberty Bell, particularly black children, can see that blacks always fought for freedom — a story that rarely gets told.

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