Ona, Runaway Slave
Seacoast Black History
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Washington's Runaway
Slave in Greenland, NH

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Black History as Poetry

The following verses are from M. O. Hall's "Rambles About Greenland in Rhyme" (Boston: Alfred Mudge & Sons, Printers, 1900), an anecdotal history of the town of Greenland, NH. In these stanzas, the author takes poetic license with the story of Ona Judge Staines, distorting and embellishing many facts. For example, she was older than age fifteen at the time of her escape, gave birth to several children, and Eliza died many years before her mother just to name a few distortions. However, Hall's account is biographically inspired, captures the excitement of Ona's escape, and shows how this former bondswoman became a local legend. (Notes by Evelyn Gerson)

Ona, Washington's Runaway Slave
By M. O. Halls (1900)

But what I have to tell, is, how a slave was hid,
A maid of Martha Washington, a little kid,
And almost white; she had some help and found a way
To make escape upon a schooner down the bay.
The vessel came with wood; behind a pile she hid,
Until, just as the vessel sailed, she thought and did

Just what occasion prompted, slipped on board and hid
Again, and there she stayed in fear until they bid
Her to come on deck, and have no fear, for she was safe;
And all were drawn in pity to the little waif
Of fifteen years. The vessel, bound for Portsmouth, kept
Right on until she reached her port, and then she wept
For joy. Liberty is sweet (bear this in mind)
To all-to bird and beast, as well to all mankind.

A man by name of Staines took her to wife. By her
He had two daughters. 'Liza lived, and many were
The presents made to pave the way to see a slave
Of Washington. Now, when 't was known he wished to save
This chattel, she was warned and fled to this retreat.

The course pursued was very wise; he was discreet.
His letter showed the noble man he always was.
"His wife would like her back, but would not be the cause
Of any strife, take any action, give offence,"
He said, "if public feeling had become intense."
Charles Sumner, senator and statesman (this maintains,)
Was written the collector of the port 'bout Mrs. Staines.
And when the story spread, that she was wanted back,

She sought and found a shelter in the house of Jack.
The Jacks were very jealous of attentions paid
To this lone widow woman, and, when some were made
In common, took the lion's share, scoop in the whole
And treated little Staines as though she had no soul.

The ground where once the cottage stood, there by the brook,
To-day is all smoothed down, and in this garden nook,
Where once sweetwilliams, daffodils, and beds of rue,
Old fashioned flowers, perfumes mixed and drank the dew.

There's nothing left to tell the tale of daily strife,
Of constant struggle, ending only with the life.
They are all buried in a lonely, far-off spot,
Away from human kind-a lonely pasture lot.
Now let us leave this lovely, lonely, sacred dell.


A fallen tree hides what remains of the Jacks/Staines grave site off of Dearborn Avenue in Greenland, NH. Many thanks to Everett Street for his assistance in locating the burial plot. Photo by Evelyn Gerson.

Ona received many visitors, people curious to meet the slave who once belonged to the Washington family. However, Hall's last lines portray the Jack family as being envious of their housemate's notoriety. He even goes so far as to accuse the Jacks of mistreating the fugitive. Since Ona spent almost 25 years living under the same roof as Phillis and Nancy, one has to doubt Hall's report. In fact, the Jack sisters probably welcomed curious visitors since most brought presents such as food, sundries, and other much-needed supplies that would be shared throughout the household.

Broken Gravestone

Remnants from the headstone of Phillis Jack, Jr. This is the only inscribed marker found at the site. Photo by Evelyn Gerson.

The author leaves his readers with a reminder that the family really had to struggle in order to survive. Rockingham county did not have a multifarious population and as a result the seacoast area's African-Americans fused together to confront cultural isolation. To overcome social marginalization, prejudice, scant housing, lack of economic opportunity, and pejorative white attitudes that faced their small community, Portsmouth area blacks, like the Jack-Staines domestic partnership, relied upon bonds of mutual dependence.

Copyright © 2000 Notes by Evelyn Gerson
Copyright © 2000 SeacoastNH.com design & cyber publication

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