Oney Judge is a name known to few people, but her story is fascinating. She was born into slavery, but in 1796, when she was about 20, she ran away.

Let me correct that. She walked away. In the busy city of Philadelphia, while the family ate dinner, Oney just walked out the door. With a suitcase. And she kept walking.

Public announcement about the runaway slave Oney Judge

She ended up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. No family, No friends. No money. She only had two things: (1) a constant fear that slave hunters would find her and take her back; (2) and her freedom.

Things could’ve taken a nasty turn when she ran into Bets Langdon in the marketplace. Bets was a friend of her master’s family, and she recognized Oney immediately. She was surprised to learn that Oney had run away. “Why on earth would you run away?”

Our 21st-century sensibilities might think Bets Langdon was either total insensitive or an absolute moron. But Bets was thinking of what Oney had back in Philadelphia compared to what she now had. As a slave, Oney …

  • … lived in one the nicest homes in America.
  • … had very light work to do.
  • … had her own room.
  • … was privy to a lot of indulgences.
  • … had a front-row seat to history.

Oney Judge was a slave of President George Washington. (Technically, she was the slave of Martha.) She lived in the most prominent home in the country, and she would not deny that she was treated well. Very well.

But she wasn’t free.

Bets Langdon never turned Oney Judge in. While attempts were periodically made to bring Oney back into the Washington house, it never happened. She married, had three children (whom she outlived), became a Christian, and lived to the ripe old age of 75.

When asked if she is not sorry she left Washington, as she has labored so much harder since, than before, her reply is, “No, I am free, and have, I trust been made a child of God by the means.” —May 22, 1845 interview

This week marks her death—February 25, 1848. She died impoverished but free—and she preferred it that way.

As a follower of Christ, let Oney Judge’s choice sink in. She would rather live free and impoverished than live in relative luxury as a slave. The world seeks to entice us with every indulgence, but there’s no freedom in that. Choosing sin is to ultimately choose enslavement.

  • Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin…. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34,36).
  • “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

Too many of us give into sin, feeling we’re missing out on some great indulgence. It’s a lie. We want the freedom to do whatever seems right in our own eyes, but what sin and the world offers is nothing but slavery.

Choose to live in the freedom of Christ. It goes against the thinking of the world, but choosing to live as a servant under the lordship of Christ is to live in true freedom.

As a Christian, you may live impoverished by the world’s standards. You may be humiliated. But you will be free in Christ, and that is a freedom that lasts. The world and all it offers is temporary, but a life in Christ is forever.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:22-23).

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