From my friend Mary V. Thompson here. A must read! A taste:
Five years later the Washingtons faced another crisis when Oney ran away. ...
Martha Washington seems to have been terribly upset by the loss of Oney, and her husband made several attempts over the next three years to recover the young woman. Washington’s efforts to contact her were successful and, at one point, she seems to have been willing to return to Mount Vernon. Negotiations broke down, however, when she made a suggestion which Washington found completely unacceptable. Oney sent word that she would come back and “serve with fidelity during the lives of the President & his Lady if she could be freed on their decease, should she outlive them; but that she should rather suffer death than return to Slavery & liable to be sold or given to any other persons.” Washington responded:
To enter into such a compromise with her, as she suggested to you, is totally inadmissable, for reasons that must strike at first view: for however well disposed I might be to a gradual abolition, or even to an entire emancipation of that description of People (if the latter was in itself practicable at this moment) it would neither be politic or just to reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference; and thereby discontent before hand the minds of all her fellow-servants who by their steady attachments are far more deserving than herself of favor.