“Patricia Bayonne-Johnson holds a photo of her great grandparents and their son. The retired science teacher cracked the mystery of what happened to the descendants of the slaves Georgetown sold. In 1838, Georgetown sold 272 slaves to clear its debt. “
SOLD to PAY GEORGETOWN’s DEBTS
Georgetown’s priests sold her Catholic ancestors
by Terrence McCoy / June 17
“Patricia Bayonne-Johnson’s family members never talked much about their history. Some were perhaps afraid of what they would find if they dug too deep. For decades, questions about who her ancestors were, where they came from, and details of their lives went unanswered. That changed on a spring day in 2004. Bayonne-Johnson, who grew up in New Orleans but was then living in Berkeley, Calif., had asked a genealogist to find answers for an upcoming reunion. And the inquiry’s results, in an envelope, had arrived. The package bore four documents. The first two described sales. Her ancestors had been sold, she learned, from one slave master to the next, across Louisiana in the mid-1800s. The next document enumerated an inventory of slaves belonging to one of them. The last document was the oldest. It offered an even greater surprise: The origins of Bayonne-Johnson’s family didn’t lay in Louisiana, but in Maryland. They came South by way of a sale orchestrated by one of Maryland’s leading Jesuit priests in 1838. That man, Thomas Mulledy, then the president of Georgetown University, had sold 272 slaves to pay off a massive debt strangling the university.
“The ship manifest of the Katharine Jackson, available in full at the Georgetown Slavery archive, listed the name, sex, age and height of each slave transported to New Orleans in the fall of 1838. It showed that the cargo included dozens of children, among them infants as young as 2 months old.”
In Bayonne-Johnson’s hands, experts say, was the earliest known research into what became of the descendants of the Georgetown slaves. Before last autumn’s uproar over whether to rename a campus building named for Mulledy, before researchers announced a nationwide search for the descendants of the slaves he sold, and before the New York Times called national attention to their quest this spring, there was Bayonne-Johnson, sitting at her desk, trying to reconcile what she had just learned. Her deeply Catholic family had been sold by Jesuit priests. “Patricia Bayonne-Johnson was the first person I know of whose research revealed a connection between the slaves sold in 1838 and their living descendants,” said Adam Rothman, a Georgetown University historian who’s studying what happened. Her work came at a time, he said, when most Georgetown scholars “didn’t think about or know about what had happened. No one had thought to look into it.” The revelations have ushered in another bout of soul-searching at Georgetown as the university grapples with its role in slavery at a time of heightened racial tension in America. It’s trying to determine what, if anything, the descendants of the people sold now warrant.
The university’s president, John J. DeGioia, met with Bayonne-Johnson as a first step toward reconnecting with the descendants. A university committee has also recently provided him a list of recommendations on how to respond to the slaves’ progeny, according to task force chair David Collins, who declined to specify what the report said. It’s expected to be made public this summer. “What we’re going through now is a moment of heightened curiosity,” Collins said. Every month, dozens of descendants learn their family’s history. The story is spreading through Louisiana, where there could be thousands more.
But back in spring 2004, it’s likely the only family that knew of this past was Bayonne-Johnson’s — and she had a big decision to make. Should she keep it a secret? “In African American families, a lot of things you don’t talk about,” Bayonne-Johnson, 75, said. “You just don’t. You don’t talk about slavery. They just want to forget it and leave it in the past.” Still, she didn’t feel that was right. Others needed to know. So she dug deeper, and in the years that followed Bayonne-Johnson exhumed a past that both disturbed and emboldened her. She began publishing her findings — first in an obscure genealogical journal, then in an even more obscure personal blog. And that’s how her family’s story, which diverged from Georgetown nearly 180 years ago, converged once more.
“A photo of Patricia Bayonne-Johnson’s great grandparents and their son (left) and a photo of another one of her Great Grandparents’ sons (right)”
Her father’s family had planned a big get-together, and Bayonne-Johnson, who was nearing retirement after decades of teaching high school biology, decided it would be nice to construct a family tree. Everyone had always assumed her great-grandfather had been a slave, and she recalls her relatives’ elation when they learned he wasn’t. “We were doing the happy dance,” she said. The next year there was another reunion, this time for her mom’s side. Maybe, she thought, another family tree was in order. So she teamed up with her aunt, Onita Estes-Hicks, to see what they could find on the New Orleans family. Estes-Hicks, a retired professor with the State University of New York at Old Westbury, had long wondered about her family. How did they get to Louisiana? Where did their names come from? And, perhaps most curious of all, why were they Catholic? Most African American families are Protestant. The Catholic Church was the foundation on which the family was built. Estes-Hicks said she can still imagine her father shuffling between the pews as an usher for Sunday Mass at a small New Orleans parish overseen by white priests and nuns. She called that clergy a “warrior class” that fought for their rights in the Jim Crow South.
The relatives asked a Louisiana genealogist named Judy Riffel to dig up what could be found on the Hicks family. Bayonne-Johnson sent Riffel baptismal and burial records, a pedigree chart and censuses. And Riffel set out for the courthouse in Iberville Parish. Going in that day, Riffel knew it wouldn’t be easy. In her 35 years of genealogical research, she has investigated hundreds of families. She knew African American lineage was the most difficult to untangle. Slaves weren’t listed in the census until 1870. “To trace slaves back in time, you need to know who owned them, and it isn’t always easy to figure out,” she said. “But once you have an owner, then you can go in the court records and trace them as property..”
Riffel thought she was onto something when she located Iberville’s 1910 census. Bayonne-Johnson’s great grandmother had said her parents were born in Maryland. And from previous research, Riffel knew one Louisiana landowner named Jesse Batey had shipped a lot of slaves into the state from Maryland. So she next searched Batey’s slave inventory, where she found Bayonne-Johnson’s ancestors. Unwinding the sale history, she came upon the initial transaction. The document said: “In the city of Washington, on 10 November, 1839 [sic], Thomas Mulledy of Georgetown, District of Columbia sold to Jesse Batey … 64 Negroes.” Thinking little of it, Riffel shipped her findings to Bayonne-Johnson, who passed them on to Estes-Hicks, who one day in 2004 found herself wondering who this Mulledy fellow was. She plugged his name into Google. The results revealed that Mulledy had been the leader of Maryland’s Jesuit priests. It also showed him to be the president of Georgetown University. Her family, she discovered, had been among the 272 slaves Mulledy had sold.
“Patricia Bayonne-Johnson is also the president of the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society in Spokane, Wash., which is helping to track the slaves and their families.”
She remembers sitting in her Manhattan study, stunned. She loved the Catholic Church. She had never expected it to be complicit in her family’s bondage. The Church “really helped fight segregation in the South, and we always thought they were part of the freedom movement. Never —” she said, trailing off. “It was tense. And it still is for me.” She and Bayonne-Johnson put together a list of materials for the upcoming reunion, which began with Mass at Saint Monica Catholic Church in New Orleans. People wept when they learned the truth, Estes-Hicks recalled. Then Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, shuttering Saint Monica. Estes-Hicks, consumed with what the storm had done to her childhood home and church, abandoned the search into her family’s past. But Bayonne-Johnson didn’t. Last November, a Boston entrepreneur named Richard Cellini learned of a drama gripping Georgetown, his alma mater. Students were demonstrating to demand the renaming of Mulledy Hall. Cellini dispatched a note to a Georgetown professor. He asked what had happened to the descendants of the slaves. The official told him, according to their correspondence, that “all of them quickly succumbed to fever in the malodorous swamp world of Louisiana.”
Still curious, Cellini decided to research what happened for himself and soon landed on a small website Bayonne-Johnson maintained. Her findings, also published in a genealogical journal in 2008, traced her family from a St. Mary’s County plantation through the Georgetown sale and into their voyage South — as well as their lives afterward. “My search for the name of the ship that transported my ancestors who were enslaved by the Jesuits came to an end after four years of research,” Bayonne-Johnson wrote in the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society Bulletin. It was called the Katherine Jackson of Georgetown. Those ancestors, she wrote, had survived the Civil War and went on to live long lives. “They were found on the 1870 Iberville Parish census at 75 and 80 respectively,” she wrote. Many of their “children remained in the area.” Cellini sent Bayonne-Johnson an e-mail. Could she talk right away? “She totally punctured the balloon,” Cellini said. “If she hadn’t done the research and published her little blog there would have been no easy way for us to find” what had happened to the descendants. Days later, Cellini launched the nonprofit Georgetown Memory Project, hired the genealogist who had first helped Bayonne-Johnson and started searching for other descendants. So far, his organization has located more than 2,000 and had direct contact with between 50 and 60 of them, Cellini said. “It’s a slow and painstaking process,” he added. His hope is that Georgetown will welcome all of them into the community and grant them the same “legacy status” afforded children of Georgetown donors.
“John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, meets Bayonne-Johnson, a descendant of slaves owned by Maryland Jesuits.” (photo Jerry Johnson)
While it’s unclear whether the university will do that, it has taken steps to reconnect with the descendants. On Monday, at Bayonne-Johnson’s meeting with the university’s president, she said she finally had the chance to tell her family’s story in person. It was all she said she ever wanted. “Censuses and charts and family trees are boring,” she said. “But stories — I wanted to tell the story of my family. I just want to be a part of its history. And it’s there. It’s hidden. It’s not told. It’s wherever they put it. I just want to get my story out there.”
“The bill of sale was dated June 19, 1838, and stated: “Thomas F. Mulledy sells to Jesse Beatty and Henry Johnson two hundred and seventy two negroes, to wit.” It outlined a payment plan, with discounts if the slaves turned out to be more infirm than described.”
SPOKEN FORMAL APOLOGY
Georgetown plans to apologize for its role in slavery
by Nick Anderson and Susan Svrluga / September 1
“Georgetown University pledged Thursday to apologize for its role in the slave trade and offered to give admissions preference to the descendants of those sold for the benefit of the school, one of the most aggressive responses to date among the universities trying to make amends for the horrors of slavery. In addition, the highly selective university in the nation’s capital plans to give the descendants of slaves owned by Maryland Jesuits a boost in admissions, treating applicants from that community the same as it would those who are children of faculty, staff and alumni. And it will name a university residence hall after one of the slaves, a man named Isaac. He was 65 years old in 1838 when he and 271 other slaves were sold to Louisiana businessmen.
“Student activists at Georgetown protest for the renaming of Mulledy and McSherry Halls“
Georgetown took the steps in response to a report from a panel of faculty and staff members, students and alumni that examined the university’s ties to slavery, including the sale of men and women in the early 19th century that helped pay off debt at the Jesuit school. Two priests who took turns as president of Georgetown in those years, the Rev. Thomas Mulledy and the Rev. William McSherry, orchestrated the 1838 sale, for a price of $115,000, or $3.3 million today, breaking families apart. Many ended up in Louisiana, “where they labored under dreadful conditions on cotton and sugar plantations,” some sold to the widow of a notorious slave trader, according to the report. The episode has been known to scholars for decades. But it has drawn new attention in the past year amid an intensive dialogue about race relations on college campuses across the country.
Several people who trace their ancestry to the slaves sold came to Georgetown on Thursday to hear the university’s president, John J. DeGioia. “It is with deep gratitude and humility that I recognize your presence,” he told them. Members of the audience shot to their feet to echo him with a sustained ovation for the descendants. Before the speech, some descendants wondered why they hadn’t been represented on the panel or invited to the speech — and what the university would do for, and with, their community going forward. “Reconciliation can’t be one-sided,” said Sandra Green Thomas, 54, a descendant who lives in New Orleans. “Apologies are nice. But apologies without actions are a little meaningless.” Melissa Kemp, 27, a descendant from Somerville, Mass., said she appreciated in theory the university’s action on admission preferences for slave descendants. But she worried about how many would reach Georgetown’s academic standards. “You’re dangling an apple a little too high for some of these students,” she said.
The panel, which Georgetown President John J. DeGioia convened a year ago, studied the sale and other issues connected to Georgetown and slavery. It said in its report to DeGioia that “a formal, spoken apology” would be appropriate “because its absence rings so loudly. The University, despite the many ways that it has invested resources over the past half century to heal the wounds of racial injustice, has not made such an apology,” the report continued. “While there can be empty apologies, words of apology, genuinely expressed, make a difference in the quest for reconciliation.” The report and the university’s response drew emotional reactions from people who trace their lineage to those sold in 1838. Jessica Tilson, 34, a student at Southern University in Louisiana, said she was especially moved by the university’s decision to dedicate one of its buildings to the memory of Isaac. Tilson said she is descended from him. Tilson was driving her mother to work Thursday when she got an email from Georgetown with news of the report. She said she burst into tears, pulled into a gas station parking lot and told her mother. They cried together, and talked about how they would tell Tilson’s 80-year-old grandfather. “I love the idea – all of it,” Tilson said. “Especially the name of the buildings. Isaac is my sixth great grandfather … When people name buildings after people, it shows how much you value them and respect them…. That means millions of children that come to that school for an education will learn about him. That is — I’m speechless. There are no feelings in the world that can describe how that feels.”
With the report, Georgetown joins a growing number of prominent colleges and universities that are giving new scrutiny to their various connections to the institution of slavery in America from colonial times through the Civil War. Brown University acknowledged its close ties to the 18th-century transatlantic slave trade in a groundbreaking 2006 report. The University of Virginia’s governing board voted in 2007 to express regret for the use of slaves at the school Thomas Jefferson founded in 1819, a decade after the slave-owning Founding Father ended his second term as president. Georgetown, founded in 1789, is now revisiting its own deep entanglement with slavery, a story broader than the infamous 1838 sale. DeGioia in recent months has reached out to descendants of slaves the Jesuits sold in a quest to make amends for the actions of his predecessors — 40 to 50 in all, he said. DeGioia told students that the university must confront its past. “This community participated in the institution of slavery,” he said. “This original evil that shaped the early years of the republic was present here.” He said the university also must take steps to address racial inequities in American society today.
The report is a milestone for Georgetown, which, like many prominent colleges, was long an all-white bastion. Today about 6 percent of Georgetown’s 7,500 undergraduates are African American. Eight percent are Latino, 10 percent are Asian American and 4 percent are multiracial. The panel’s report explores the relationship between Maryland Jesuits, slavery and the college. The Jesuits established plantations and began using slave labor on them about 1700. Those plantations became an enduring source of financial support for Georgetown, the nation’s first Catholic college. The report notes that through the Civil War “the mood at the college was pro-slavery and ultimately pro-Confederacy.” Preliminary research suggests that there were more slaves on Georgetown’s campus than previously thought, probably about 1 in every 10 people on campus in the early 19th century. Some were brought by students. Some were rented from slave owners.
Mulledy and McSherry organized the sale of 272 slaves to Louisiana businessmen while the former was college president and the latter held the title of superior of the Maryland Province of the Jesuits.The slaves were taken to various plantations in Louisiana. Many were then sold and resold. The sale was controversial at the time. Jesuit authorities in Rome were initially inclined to support emancipation, the report said, and they imposed several conditions on any sale, including a mandate that slave families should not be divided. That condition and others were not honored. Until last year, Mulledy and McSherry were honored at Georgetown.
“30 students occupied a hallway in front of the office of John J. DeGioia, president of Georgetown, on Nov. 13. Demonstrators expressed solidarity with other student protests against racial discrimination and demanded that Mulledy Hall on campus be renamed.”
But even as the university revisited the slave sale, a movement emerged to improve the racial climate on campuses nationwide. Students at Georgetown held a sit-in outside DeGioia’s office in November to protest the Mulledy and McSherry building names and other issues. Soon afterward, the university stripped the priests’ names from the buildings. Now the building once known as Mulledy Hall will be renamed Isaac Hall, honoring the first of the 272 slaves listed in documents of the 1838 sale. And what was once McSherry Hall will be renamed Anne Marie Becraft Hall, to honor a free woman of color. According to the report, she was “a trailblazing educator” with roots in the Georgetown neighborhood in the 19th century. The university also plans to develop a public memorial to slaves and their families outside those halls. Names of each of those 272 people will be included in the memorial or inside the halls.
Georgetown University to give admissions preference to descendants of slaves sold by the college
“Georgetown University will give preference in admissions to the descendants of slaves owned by the Maryland Jesuits as part of its effort to atone for profiting from the sale of enslaved people, the president of the prominent Jesuit university in Washington announced Thursday. University President John DeGioia made the announcement as he released the recommendations of a school committee that was created last year to study Georgetown’s ties to slavery. The university also plans to establish an institute for the study of slavery, and to create a public memorial honoring slaves from whom Georgetown benefited. “We must acknowledge that Georgetown University participated in the institution of slavery,” DeGioia said at a campus gathering on Thursday. “There were slaves here on this hilltop until emancipation in 1862.”
In 1838, two priests who served as president of the university orchestrated the sale of 272 men, women and children for $115,000, or roughly $3.3 million in today’s dollars, to pay off debts at the school. The slaves were sent from Jesuit plantations in Maryland to Louisiana, “where they labored under dreadful conditions,” and families were broken up, according to a report issued by the school committee. It’s not clear if any of those descendants live in Maryland. Georgetown officials did not respond to a question about whether they kept a list of descendants. The transaction was one of the most thoroughly documented large sales of enslaved people in history, and the names of many of the people sold are included in bills of sale, a transport manifest and other documents. Genealogical research conducted by Georgetown and other organizations, including The New York Times, has identified many living descendants of the slaves.
The university will reach out to those descendants and recruit them to the university, and they will have the same advantage in admissions that’s given to people whose parents or grandparents attended Georgetown, DeGioia said. Universities around the United States have taken various attempts to atone for their participation in slavery, but several historians said the establishment of an admissions preference is unprecedented. “We provide care and respect for the members of the Georgetown community: faculty, staff, alumni, those with an enduring relationship with Georgetown. We will provide the same care and respect to the descendants,” DeGioia said. Loyola University Maryland, also a Jesuit institution, said it had no connection to the Georgetown slave sale. Spokesman Nick Alexopulos said in a statement the university is “deeply committed to human dignity and equality.”
“From examinations of our archives we have found nothing that connects slavery or the slave trade to Loyola’s history, and we have no reason to believe slavery or the slave trade have ties to Loyola,” he said. Historians have uncovered ties to slavery at many of America’s early colleges. Princeton University‘s first eight presidents owned slaves. Harvard University‘s law school was created with money donated by a slave owner. Dozens of slaved were used to build the University of Virginia‘s campus and to operate its hotels and kitchens. “The history of the American college is in fact a chapter in the history of American slavery,” said Craig Steven Wilder, a historian at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of a 2013 book on academia’s link to slavery. “Every college that was established before the American Revolution has direct ties to slavery.”
On many campuses, those darker histories remained mostly hidden for decades. But in recent years, often amid pressure from students, some colleges have sought to confront their pasts. In 2006, for example, Brown University published a report chronicling its ties to the slave trade and in 2014 installed a memorial on campus to recognize it. Harvard posted a plaque on campus this year honoring slaves who worked on campus in the 1700s. Last year, the University of Virginia named a new dorm building after a slave couple who worked on campus. Georgetown’s new admissions advantage goes beyond what most colleges have done to atone for their pasts, Wilder said. But replicating it would be impossible at most other schools, he said, because few records were kept at the time that could be used to trace descendants.
Officials at the University of Virginia and Brown University said they have had little success tracking descendants of slaves connected to their campuses. The Georgetown committee also called on the school to offer a formal apology for its relationship with slavery. DeGioia said that will happen at a “mass of reconciliation” with the Archdiocese of Washington. The university had already committed to renaming two buildings that had been named for the priests who orchestrated the sale. On Thursday, DiGioia announced that those buildings will be named after Isaac, the enslaved man whose name is the first mentioned in documents of the sale, and Anne Marie Becraft, a free African-American woman who founded a school for black girls in the Georgetown neighborhood in 1827. Georgetown also will create a memorial to the slaves whose sale benefited the university, and it will establish an Institute for the Study of Slavery and its Legacies to support continued research into the history of slavery and engagement with descendants.”
Maryland Jesuits grateful for Georgetown slavery report
by Nick Anderson / September 1 2016
“Georgetown University’s examination of its ties to slavery, through a report issued Thursday, also puts a focus on the role of the Maryland Jesuits in owning and selling slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries. The school, founded by the Jesuits in 1789, depended in its early years on revenue from Jesuit plantations that operated with slave labor. On Thursday, the Maryland Province of Jesuits issued this statement following the release of the Georgetown report:
“The Maryland Province of Jesuits acknowledges with deep gratitude the extensive research and collaborative reflection on the history of Jesuit slaveholding that is represented in the newly released report of the Georgetown University Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation. The sad chapter of slavery in the history of the Jesuit order continues to challenge us as Jesuits even after many decades of study, reflection, and efforts to contribute to racial reconciliation. As we observed in our earlier statement on Georgetown University’s work, we are disheartened by this history of moral blindness in the men and institutions we would otherwise hope to admire and look to for inspiration. The Society of Jesus wants to acknowledge and understand more deeply the sins and failures of our past. Knowing our own contributions to racial injustice in our country inspires us to work all the more for racial and ethnic reconciliation.
The Maryland Province of Jesuits commends the initiatives and recommendations contained in the Working Group’s report. We find it especially moving that two buildings once named after the Jesuit architects of the notorious sale of 1838 would instead bear the names of Isaac, the first person listed on the bill of sale of the 272 men, women, and children, and of Anne Marie Becraft, a contemporaneous African-American religious sister and trailblazing educator. We look forward also to supporting the proposed institute for the study of slavery, which will shed more complete light on this painful part of our history and will foster a dialogue with the aim of reconciliation in the present. Along these lines, the Province commits to keeping its archives available at Georgetown University for scholarly use and for genealogical research by the descendants of those enslaved.
As Jesuits, we commit ourselves to the pursuit of reconciliation regarding this history, a goal articulated so thoughtfully in the report. It is our hope that the process initiated by the Working Group and fostered by this report will help heal the long-lasting scars of this deplorable eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history and advance the pursuit of racial equality and social justice in the present.”
Beyond the 272 Sold in 1838, Plotting the National Diaspora of Jesuit-Owned Slaves
by Matthew Quallen, Hoya Historian Columnist
“On April 17, a Sunday, a picture appeared above the centerfold of The New York Times. Maxine Crump, a descendant of Cornelius Hawkins, stands in a sugar field in Maringouin, La., where her ancestor worked fetid, unforgiving fields. Hawkins was one of 272 slaves sold in 1838 by Georgetown University to a Louisiana planter for $115,000. A provocative question leads the article: “272 slaves were sold to save Georgetown. What does it owe their descendants?” The scale of the question is tremendous. Richard Cellini (COL ’84), founder of the Georgetown Memory Project, described a statistical model developed by a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that predicts how human populations grow and produce descendants. According to Cellini, the model predicts that there are 12,000 to 15,000 living descendants of the 272 slaves named in the 1838 sale.
What is most astonishing about this number, 12,000 to 15,000, is its starting point of 272: while Jesuits who ran Georgetown sold 272 slaves in 1838, they owned many more. Some historians have placed the number as high as 400 at its peak, not including the whole generations that lived in slavery under the Maryland Jesuits from its inception at the turn of the 18th century. Georgetown’s Jesuits sold dozens of slaves in 1817, then again to Florissant, Mo., in 1835. They sent slaves to St. Louis and Kentucky in the years that followed. They manumitted slaves in southern Maryland before 1838. Slaves who were never sold lived on campus and in Maryland well after the sale. In light of this, the 272 and Maringouin, La., where the memory project predicts as many as 600 of the 1,100 residents descend from Georgetown’s slaves, join an even larger larger mosaic; 12,000 to 15,000 becomes 20,000-plus. They are essential pieces of a vast diaspora: a centuries-long scattering of the slaves who supported Georgetown that covers the entire country.
Take a map of the United States. Wipe out every state admitted after 1808: every state west of the Mississippi and many of the rest, leaving only the original 13 colonies, Vermont, Kentucky – carved out of Virginia – Tennessee and Ohio. The rump runs along the eastern seaboard, penetrating barely into the interior. On January 1, 1808, those United States enacted a ban on the international slave trade. Nine of the 17 existing states had already abolished slavery, never legally sanctioned the practice or begun abolition schemes to gradually put an end to slavery. That left eight slave states: Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland.
Still absent from the Union was the Deep South, particularly the states of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana — known today for its deep-seated connection with American slavery. That growing interior of the republic would come to host hundreds of thousands of slaves. But these slaves could not come from Africa, Cuba or elsewhere in the Caribbean; the abolition of the international slave trade meant that slave traders had to move slaves from elsewhere in the United States. For this supply, they turned to Maryland and Virginia. Maryland and Virginia were the most significant slaveholding states in the early republic. Tobacco plantations on the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries and the interior of Virginia, including the plantations of the Maryland Jesuits, sucked thousands and thousands of slaves up the waterways of the mid-Atlantic, through Washington, D.C. — then the heart of slave trading in the U.S. — and into generations of captivity.
The two were “breeding states.” Slavers in Maryland and Virginia saw their wealth multiply through generations as their slaves gave birth to new chattel, transforming family life and population growth into asset appreciation. As demand for slaves grew in the interior and Deep South with the proliferation of cotton, and with the fall of the profitability of tobacco in the 1820s and 1830s, slave owners in Maryland and Virginia began selling their slaves to fulfill the increasing demand from the South. These slaves were moved south through a network of prisons, overland routes and ships: New Orleans and Mobile, the great slave ports of the South were the destinations. Washington, crawling with slave traders moving the human cargo of the mid-Atlantic, was the point of departure.
Georgetown and its Jesuits contributed to each of these trends. They enslaved blacks for upwards of 160 years, and over generations, their slave holdings multiplied, from the dozens to the hundreds, many of whom spent their entire lives in captivity. There, at the birth of American slavery, the Maryland Jesuits established a place in the top five percent of slaveholders in the United States. And when they needed cash to save Georgetown, and the price was right, the Maryland Jesuits sold their slaves from Maryland to Louisiana, hitching a ride on a national scattering of slaves from the mid-Atlantic to nearly half the growing country.
In American slavery, many journeys began in Maryland. The Jesuits’ began in 1634, when Fathers Andrew White, S.J., John Altham Gravenor, S.J., and Thomas Gervase, S.J., arrived on Maryland’s shores alongside 300 Catholic settlers. They disembarked their watery steeds—the Ark and the Dove—and celebrated Mass around an iron cross now suspended in Dahlgren Chapel. For their efforts, the missionaries received from the Calvert governors of Maryland nearly 12,000 acres of land dotting the banks of the Potomac and Chesapeake. These plots would become the Jesuit plantations. In the 17th century, the Jesuits relied on indentured servants for labor: frequently poor white migrants, debtors or criminals whose labor was owned for a fixed amount of time, often a decade or two. Change gradually arrived around 1700. The supply of indentured servants staunched, in part because many of Britain’s internal conflicts drew to a close. Meanwhile, the expansion of Brazil and Caribbean sugar production, which required stunning amounts of labor to sustain, encouraged colonial powers to strengthen their access to African slaves.
The Jesuits duly observed this transition, which Winthrop Jordan, history professor and renowned writer, has called an “unthinking decision.” In roughly 1700, the Jesuits began replacing indentured servants on their plantations with black slaves. For the next 90 years, the Maryland Jesuits focused attention on their farms and their slaves. The mission’s slave holdings grew through purchases, bequests from wealthy parishioners and the passage of time. Whole generations passed on the plantations: people were born into slavery, lived in slavery and died in slavery on the Jesuit plantations in Maryland. Many of their births on the plantation were recorded by the Jesuits. John, a slave of the Maryland Jesuits, was born on February 22, 1755 in Fort Tobacco Maryland, a Jesuit plantation. His mother was Jenny—noted in flowing hand as Jo’s wife. In May of 1759 – the Jesuit register does not record a precise date – his brother Peter was born, followed, in 1761, by their sister Catherine. John, Peter and Catherine were born 80 years before the 1838 sale; their parents earlier still. It seems likely that none of them escaped slavery in their lifetimes.
In 1789, the Jesuit plantations gained new purpose. The Maryland Jesuits founded a school on the banks of the Potomac in Maryland: Georgetown. Meeting that year under the moniker of the “General Society at White Marsh,” the Jesuits formulated a plan. Every three years, they would inspect the plantations and sell “supernumerary” slaves — converting the growth of their slaveholdings into broken families and cash. This cash would go into a general fund. The next time they met, in 1792, the purpose of this maneuver became clear. The Jesuits appointed a board of directors for Georgetown College and authorized it to spend from the general fund to build a campus. From its inception then, a tight financial connection bound together Georgetown and the Jesuit plantations — and their slaves. Slaves supported the growth of Georgetown in more than financial ways. The Jesuits deployed slaves from the plantations to work on the grounds of the school, probably in the numerous outbuildings that surrounded the Hilltop. When these slaves became too old to work, the Jesuits returned them to the plantations. In 1814, John McElroy, a Georgetown Jesuit, recorded that there were 12 slaves on campus, out of only 102 people. The year before he had recorded 13.
The difference may be explained by the flight of Isaac, a slave at Georgetown College. In January 1814, Isaac fled Georgetown. The next day, he was captured in Baltimore. In response, the Jesuits sold Isaac to a slaver in Hartford County, Md. He may have ended his journey on a plantation in Maryland; slavers may have sold Isaac even farther afield. In 1820, an Irish Jesuit named Peter Kenney visited the Jesuit plantations in Maryland at the behest of the Father General of the Society of Jesus to report on the practices and conditions. In his document, Kenney devoted particular attention to the question of slaveholding. He observed that the Jesuits were whipping women, even pregnant women. He noted as well that in some cases the Jesuits had tied up these women in the parlors of the priest’s home to administer whippings. Kenney recommended that this practice, which he called “indecorous,” cease.
Most traces of that era are gone, but some linger. Slave cabins on the Jesuit plantations still remain. When slaves died on campus, they were buried in the vicinity, along with free blacks and slaves from the rest of Holy Trinity Parish. Charles, a slave owned by the university, died during a cholera outbreak in 1832. As with other deaths between 1817 and 1833, he was interred in the Old College Ground, a segregated graveyard that was removed in 1953 — and now is the site of the Northeast Triangle Residence Hall. During the 1820s and 1830s, the terrain of Catholic America changed rapidly on three fronts. Catholics poured into the country and its cities, transforming a largely rural, slaveholding populace into one that was increasingly urban and immigrant. A new generation of Jesuits, skeptical of the role of slavery within the Society, began to take charge, helmed by Fr. William McSherry, S.J., and Fr. Thomas Mulledy, S.J. And the Jesuit education mission rapidly expanded into the interior of the country.
The costs of the first two pieces of this dynamic mix are now well-known. McSherry and Mulledy devoted increasingly significant resources to Georgetown, believing the changing demographics of American Catholicism required urban schools to become the Jesuits’ new focus. They considered the slaves dispensable. From the plantations, McSherry wrote a series of reports in 1833, lamenting their longstanding inability to furnish enough money to support Georgetown and cooking up a plan of action: Sell the slaves. In an apparent dress rehearsal for the 1838 sale, McSherry managed to sell 25 slaves to a planter from Louisiana named Henry Johnson. Meanwhile, at Georgetown, Mulledy was building. In the same year as McSherry’s reports, work commenced on what would come to be Mulledy Hall, a forbiddingly large brick structure in the heart of the old campus. Enrollment had doubled, facilities and programs had bloomed and Mulledy proved able to attract more exceptional students to Georgetown.
In 1837, land speculation in the Midwest led the economy to collapse in the Panic of 1837, and Mulledy and McSherry’s agendas collided. Georgetown fell into dire financial straits. Without an infusion of nearly $25,000 in cash, the procurator of the Society suggested that it may be necessary to shut down Georgetown. So Mulledy and McSherry hatched their plan. In 1838, they sold the vast majority of the society’s slaves — 272 in all — to that same Louisiana planter, Henry Johnson, and his business partner, a doctor named Jesse Batey, for over $115,000. Mulledy and McSherry, who was then-dying of stomach cancer, took a large portion of the down payment and paid down the most severe of Georgetown’s debts, defusing the university’s financial crisis. Pens inked paper in Washington, and in Maryland, a terrible journey began in response. Mulledy, slavers and sheriffs rounded up hundreds of slaves without warning, herding infants and grandparents alike onto ships bound ultimately for Louisiana. According to Rev. Thomas Lilly, who was present at the scene, many slaves wept or prayed amid the pandemonium.
The Jesuits’ human cargo descended from the Maryland plantations on Washington, D.C., to be loaded in Alexandria and transported to Point Coupee and Iberville parishes, mirroring a journey taken by hundreds of thousands in the last decades of American slavery, a dreaded passage from the breeding states of Maryland and Virginia to the cotton-growing states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Many of those 272 slaves’ journeys ended on a plantation growing sugar — in a bayou a few miles north of a town called Maringouin. The journey to Maringouin, which has captured the attention of Georgetown students, faculty, staff, alumni and—under intense media exposure—much of the nation, is the best-known of the many strands that make up the Georgetown diaspora of slaves. But the reach of Georgetown slaves extends beyond that particular voyage. There are the 25 slaves sold by McSherry and dispatched to Louisiana in 1835. There are the slaves who remained at Georgetown; financial records note the presence of slaves on campus more than a decade after the sale. There are the slaves who remained in Maryland, in some cases hidden away by Jesuits opposed to the sale. Joseph Zwinge, a Jesuit historian, interviewed a woman, “Aunt Louisa,” in southern Maryland around 1912. Aunt Louisa, who may be Louisa Mason of St. Mary’s County, Md., claimed to have been warned to flee into the woods in 1838. The 1900 census lists Mason’s date of birth: 1812. She had a son named Robert, with wife and children of his own.
And there are the slaves that accompanied the Jesuits westward as the Society expanded its educational reach, who faced their own terrible journeys. In 1823, the Maryland Jesuits agreed to relocate their novitiate north of a small school in St. Louis — a school that would become Saint Louis University. A contingent of Jesuits headed west to establish the novitiate and later helm the fledgling institution; they brought with them from the Maryland plantations a half-dozen slaves: Moses and Nancy, Thomas and Molly, Isaac and Susan, each husband and wife. The Jesuits forced the couples to leave their children behind; they expected their slaves would produce more children in Missouri. During the 800-mile journey over land, the slaves held up the rear of the party, carrying the heaviest supplies on a clumsy wagon. When they arrived at a river, they split onto two rafts. One held the Jesuits and their sacred items. The other held the slaves and the heavier suppliers, precariously weighing down the timber float as it rushed downriver. The slaves clung to their rosaries, fearing the worst. They survived, disembarked and trod forward on foot. When the Jesuits and their slaves arrived in St. Louis, they went north to Florissant Farm — now a suburb bordering Ferguson, Mo. The six slaves were crammed into a single cabin under awful conditions. They worked from five in the morning to the evening. The Jesuits whipped and beat the slaves, especially Fr. Charles Felix Van Quickenborne, S.J., the leader of the contingent who was nicknamed “Napoleon.”
In October 1833, Thomas Brown, one of the Jesuit slaves brought from Maryland to St. Louis, sent a letter of appeal to the provincial of the Maryland Jesuits, William McSherry. Brown, who had then been a slave of the Jesuits for 38 years, begged to be allowed to purchase his freedom, desperately seeking to escape Saint Louis University and its president, Fr. Peter J. Verhaegen, S.J. “We live at present in a rotten log house so old and decayed that at every blast of wind we are afraid of our lives,” Brown wrote, as winter approached. He continued: “Father Verhaegen wants me and my wife to live in the loft of one of the outhouses where there is no fireplace. … Cold will kill both me and my wife here.” Even as conditions remained brutal, the number of slaves at Florissant and Saint Louis University, where the Jesuits set the slaves building the institution, grew quickly. Molly and Susan each had multiple children. And the St. Louis Jesuits wrote to the superior multiple times — including to McSherry in 1834 — to have more slaves sent from Maryland to St. Louis. More slaves, often whole families, set out on the same perilous trek to Missouri. From Missouri, the Maryland Jesuits’ slaves travelled even further. Along with French Jesuits, Jesuits at Florissant travelled to St. Mary’s Hall in Kentucky in the late 1830s. They brought slaves from Saint Louis University, who were themselves slaves from Maryland. In 1848, they repeated the pattern. St. Joseph’s Hall opened in Kentucky; slaves from Missouri, by way of Maryland, accompanied another founding. The Jesuits built a slaveholding network that extended its tendrils into the heart of the country.
In 1862, as abolition and cannons rumbled across the United States, the Jesuits at Missouri wondered whether they should manumit their slaves. By then, there were 24 Jesuit slaves in St. Louis — many directly from Maryland and Georgetown, many their children. Moses, one of the first six slaves to survive the journey west from Maryland’s swampy plantations, had just died at the age of 85, one more Jesuit slave who would not outlive his captivity. When 1863 — the Emancipation Proclamation — and 1865 — the end of the Civil War — struck, the diaspora of Georgetown slaves already stretched from Maryland and Kentucky to Missouri and Louisiana. As Jim Crow and Reconstruction battled in the late-19th century, and the Great Migration of the mid-20th century persisted in the face of southern violence, the web spread. And now, seven generations later, it is difficult to imagine where the diaspora might not now reach — surely, among the thousands of descendants of the Maryland Jesuits’ slaves, there are residents of New York, of Chicago, of Los Angeles, of Washington. Patricia Bayonne-Johnson, a New Orleans native, genealogist and descendant of Nace Butler, whom the Georgetown Jesuits sold in 1838, now lives in Spokane, Wash.
But on the drifting bayous and sugar cane farms of Maringouin, La., history remains indefatigably alive, and Georgetown’s place in the American story — one whose success is linked inextricably to slavery, its westward spread and the capital it provided to jumpstart a sleepy colonial economy — becomes especially clear. Today, Maringouin, located about 15 miles west of Baton Rouge and bounded on either side by the snarled waterways of the Mississippi Delta, is small and shrinking. At the 2000 census, its population was 1,262; at the 2010 census, its population was 1,098. In the 1800s, Maringouin bordered sugar plantations, worked by hundreds of slaves. Maringouin still produces sugar, along with corn. In 2014, the median household income was approximately $21,000. Maxine Crump, a former Maringouin resident and Georgetown descendant who became a news reporter in New Orleans, was returning home when she learned that she was a descendant of Cornelius Hawkins, sold in 1838. “I grew up along the bayou. And my parents grew up on the bayou, my grandparents grew up on the bayou,” Crump told The Hoya. “And now I know why we’re all along the bayou: because all plantations are along the waterways. “That’s what it means to be sold down the river.”