Lesson Plan

Oney Judge's Journey to Freedom

Two color illustrations side by side - African-American woman Oney Judge holds needlework; President Washington writes with a quill.
Oney Judge seized her freedom and escaped from the President's House in Philadelphia.

NPS images

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Grade Level:
Fifth Grade-Sixth Grade
African American History and Culture, Community, Government, History, Slavery, Social Studies
Four to five class sessions
Group Size:
Up to 36
National/State Standards:
Speaking & Listening SL (9-10).1, SL (9-10).2, SL (9-10).4, SL (9-10).5, Reading Informational Text RI (9-10).1,  RI (9-10).2, RI (9-10).7
liberty, Slavery, Abolition, Underground Railroad


Students learn the story of Oney Judge's escape as well as the challenges she and President Washington faced and the choices they each made.


Students will demonstrate knowledge of the events of Oney's escape verbally and through performance or art.

Students will articulate the difficult decisions and dangers concerning her flight.

Students will present both points of view for Oney's freedom.



Teachers will need access to the internet or copies of the articles referenced in the lesson plan; a book called The Escape of Oney Judge by Emily Arnold McCully; art supplies; and large poster paper.



Students should use the information gained from this activity, along with what they have learned from the other lessons and from using the suggested video, web, and print resources, to begin to brainstorm their ideas for an essay on the Underground Railroad. After your class' site visit to Independence National Historical Park to experience the Underground Railroad school program, the students will have a wealth of knowledge, information, and experience to bring to their essay writing.

The Underground Railroad essay question is:
What do you think are the most important lessons learned from the stories and leaders of the Underground Railroad, and how can you apply them to your life?


Park Connections

This lesson plan helps students understand the promise and paradox of liberty granted in our nation's founding documents.

Additional Resources

Print Resources:

Rinaldi, Ann. Taking Liberty: The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington's Runaway Slave. This historical fiction novel by an award winning author retells the Oney Judge story. Grades 6-8

Turner, Diane. My Name is Oney Judge. This is a historical fiction picture book. Grades 3-6

Web Resources:

See these letters of correspondence (primary source) between Washington's Secretary of Treasury Oliver Wolcott and the Collector of the Port of Portsmouth Joseph Whipple concerning the return of Oney Judge to Mrs. Washington.  

Read excerpts from letters (primary source) between President Washington and his Chief Secretary concerning his compliance (or lack of compliance) with the Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780.


Dower slave, indentured servant, liberty, moral, self-sovereignty