Historical Roadside Marker Named By Laurel Ridge Elementary School Students Unveiled on Juneteenth

By By Office of Communication and Community Relations
June 21, 2021


Drive by the Mount Vernon Estate these days and you will spot a new historic roadside marker dedicated to the life of Ona Judge, a woman enslaved at both the Virginia and Philadelphia homes of George Washington.

Thanks to the history detective work of a group of fourth graders at Laurel Ridge Elementary School, the woman who eventually ran away from the president and his wife, Martha, is now recognized outside the plantation where she was held.

Last Saturday, Juneteenth, a crowd of over 200 gathered to see the official unveiling.

The marker was erected in a ceremony attended by Virginian dignitaries including Atif Qarni, Virginia secretary of education, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck and Jeffrey C. McKay, chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Virginia senator Scott Surovell and Karen Corbett Sanders, Fairfax County School Board member, Mount Vernon District also attended alongside students from Laurel Ridge ES and Dr. Erica Armstrong Dunbar, who wrote ‘Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge’.

Rising fifth grader Grace Christensen pictured here alongside Maura Keaney in front of the roadside marker for Ona Judge

Maura Keaney, a school technology specialist and history buff, collaborated with 4th grade teachers Stacy Gernatt, Megan Toland, Lesliean Luna, Carolina Bermudez, and Lindsay Wheeler on blended learning strategies to infuse more student voice and choice into Virginia Studies, including running a year-long History Hunters scavenger hunt, for which students studied Virginia historical Highway markers.  Students examined historical events in Virginia history, noticing whose perspectives were told and whose might be missing.  

Students entered suggestions into Gov. Ralph Northam's Black History Month Historical Marker Contest in 2020 and Judge was nominated by rising fifth graders, Tessa Tritten (pictured), Grace Christensen and Holly Cotton.

Judge, born a slave at Mount Vernon, served as Martha Washington's personal assistant as a young girl, and was later brought to New York City and Philadelphia after Washington became president in 1789. Due to a Pennsylvania law that may have freed Judge based on long-term residency, Washington found a way around the law by periodically sending her back to Virginia.

The marker that was erected on Juneteenth
The historical marker positioned outside the Mount Vernon Estate

In 1796, she escaped from Philadelphia for New Hampshire after learning she was intended to be a gift for Martha Washington's granddaughter.  Despite Washington's attempts to find her, she evaded recapture.

  • During the 20-21 school year, Keaney set up the History Hunters and History Makers Club for students at Kings Glen Elementary School. The fourth graders had huge success in the Governor’s annual contest writing winning submissions for five roadside markers that will be erected in 2022. 

Read that story here. 

You can watch Saturday's ceremony below.



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