On September 10, Dr. Erica Dunbar, author of the book all junior social studies students were assigned to read over the summer, spoke to the full class about her research, reading passages and explaining how she recreated a story that in many ways had been lost to history.
The book, Never Caught
, focuses on the life of an enslaved woman, Ona Judge, who grew up at Mt. Vernon and served as Martha Washington's personal servant. While George Washington was serving as America's first president in Philadelphia, Judge took advantage of her proximity to freedom and "stole herself." Dunbar's book chronicles that story and explains why the Washingtons were so committed to recapturing Ona Judge and ultimately why they were unsuccessful.
"Our students asked Dr. Dunbar great questions on Monday night, and then on Tuesday she worked in classes to introduce students to some of the techniques historians use to engage in 'close reading' of primary sources," said social studies teacher Mike Reynolds. He, Caroline English and Social Studies Department Chair Heidi Huntley were instrumental in inviting and organizing her visit as well as hosting Dunbar for the day.
"They transcribed a hand-written letter George Washington wrote in 1796 to Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott asking him to help in the search for Judge," Reynolds said. "It was such a great opportunity for our U.S. history students to read a really compelling historical story this summer and then work in a hands-on way with a scholar as renowned as Dr. Dunbar."
Dunbar is the Charles and Mary Beard Professor of History
at Rutgers University and the author of three books and numerous essays and op-eds.