By Bernard A. Cook
Georgetown College in 1789.
In 1820, Fr. Thaddeus Brzozowski, S.J., the Father General of the Jesuits in Rome, in response to complaints by European Jesuits who had come to Maryland, sent Fr. Peter Kenney, S.J., an Irish Jesuit, as a special visitor or overseer to the American mission. Fr. Kenney was disturbed by the treatment of the enslaved people on the Jesuit estates. He complained that the enslaved were given insufficient food, were overworked, and were punished excessively. He was particularly distressed by the fact that enslaved women were beaten and those who were pregnant were whipped “in the priests (sic) parlor, which is very indecorous.”
Kenney recommended that the Maryland Jesuit Consultors (advisory council) impose strict regulations concerning the treatment of the enslaved. He wrote, “Great zeal, piety, prudence & charity with a regular system are required to check the evils attendant on the possession of slaves.” (1) Although Fr. Kenney did not view the sale of the enslaved by the Jesuits as immoral, he declared their owning immoral and ordered the Jesuits “to part with them.” (2) Despite Fr. Kenney’s order, the Jesuits did not immediately sell the enslaved people under their control.
Belgian Jesuits propelled by anti-Jesuit laws of the new United Netherlands created by the 1815 Congress of Vienna came to the Jesuit plantation of White Marsh in 1822. (3) Supporting the Belgians placed an economic burden on the Maryland Jesuits. They, therefore, were happy to respond to the invitation of Bishop Louis Dubourg of Louisiana and the two Floridas, a Sulpician and former President of Georgetown College, to send Jesuits to St. Louis. (4) They dispatched the Belgians, and along with them six enslaved people.
In 1823, Fr. Charles van Quickenborne, S.J., and 11 other Belgian Jesuit priests, novices, and brothers set out from Maryland to establish the new mission in Missouri. They brought with them three enslaved couples, Thomas and Mary (Polly) Brown, Isaac and Susanna (Succy) Queen-Hawkins, and Moses and Nancy Queen from the Jesuit White Marsh plantation to set up their novitiate and its accompanying farm in Florissant, Missouri.
The Maryland Jesuits transferred to Fr. Van Quickenborne the enslaved “all of whom are the property of the above Corporation, with permission to transport them into the State of Missouri and there employ them in his service.” (5) The enslaved, in addition to the hardship of their labor and living conditions in Missouri, suffered from the separation from friends and relatives on the Jesuit plantations in Maryland. They were able to reestablish some contact in 1829, but only after the Jesuits transferred 16 additional enslaved men, women, and children from White Marsh to Florissant. These enslaved persons, personally led by Fr. Van Quickenborne, included more Queens and Hawkins: Proteus and Anny Queen-Hawkins, and Jack and Sally Queen, and children of both couples. (6) The Missouri Jesuits utilized their enslaved not only at Florissant, but also at other missions and at St. Louis College, which they took charge of in 1829, and which became a university in 1832. (7)
In 1830, Fr. Peter Kenney was sent back to America as the special representative of the new Father General, Fr. Jan Roothaan, S.J. Kenney was tasked with considering the pros and cons of selling the Jesuit plantations. Advised by Kenney and the former Maryland superior, Fr. Francis Dzierozynski, S.J., Roothaan ordered the Maryland Jesuits not to sell their plantations. However, he said nothing about the enslaved people on the plantations. In 1833, the Maryland Mission was elevated to a Province. Fr. William McSherry, S.J., was appointed provincial. McSherry and Fr. Thomas Mulledy, S.J., both came from western Virginia, now West Virginia, and were uncomfortable with the Maryland Jesuit tradition of priest-planters. (8) They supported selling the estates and the enslaved people on the basis of deferred emancipation. (9)
There were two problems. The political and social climate in Maryland had become increasingly hostile to the growing number of free Black men and women in the state, so deferred emancipation would have been difficult. There was also little possibility in Maryland of selling the people enslaved on the Jesuit farms without breaking up families. The economy in Maryland had changed and there was no demand for large numbers of enslaved people there. The possibility of a massive sale of the enslaved held by the Maryland Jesuits led them to look to the plantations of the deep south. (10)
The Jesuits established contact with Catholic planters in Louisiana, who expressed interest. On September 10, 1832, Fr. Kenney, asked Fr. Neale to provide him with “the number and description of the Blacks, whom you would sell [from the Jesuit St. Thomas Manor] to Mr. John Lee and to Mr. Horsey” in Louisiana. Kenney wrote that the planters “prefer Catholics.” (11)
Fr. Roothaan, the Superior General of the Jesuits in Rome, opposed the sale of enslaved people by the Maryland Jesuits. He wrote, “It would be better to suffer financial disaster than suffer the loss of our souls with the sale of the slaves.” (12) He was, nevertheless, persuaded to allow the sale by Fr. McSherry, then Georgetown president, and Fr. Mulledy, the provincial in charge of the Jesuits’ missions in Maryland.
Roothaan was told that Georgetown would not survive without the sale. He relented, but insisted on three conditions, which he hoped would mitigate the evil of the sale: The enslaved people would continue to practice their Catholic faith; families would not be separated; and the money received would not be used to pay off debts incurred during the presidency of Mulledy. (13) Fr. Roothaan approved the sale in October 1836. Due to Roothaan’s order that the Maryland Jesuits care for their elderly and infirm, some enslaved by the Jesuits were excluded from the sale. (14)
The Jesuits sought a purchaser who could take all of the people they enslaved in Maryland and would agree to allow them to continue to practice their Catholic faith. Such a purchaser could not be found in Maryland, so they turned to a Louisiana planter. Henry Johnson, the principal purchaser, ultimately lost ownership of some of the enslaved people he had purchased. He had used some of the enslaved as collateral in failed financial ventures. Families were split up and the new slaveholders were indifferent to the religious needs of the enslaved Catholics. (15)
McSherry, who was suffering from terminal cancer, requested to be replaced as provincial. Mulledy was appointed by Roothaan in October 1837. Mulledy completed the sale in June 1838, for $115,000, $25,000 of which was required in a down payment. The remainder was to be paid in ten years.
Roothaan’s conditions were not fulfilled. The sale paid for $17,000 of the $30,000 debt incurred by Georgetown University during the presidency of Fr. Mulledy from 1825 until 1837. $8000 was transferred to the Archbishop of Baltimore to settle his claims against the Jesuits. (16) The remaining $90,000 was dedicated as Roothaan required to the formation of young Jesuits. Families were separated at the time of the sale, (17) and later because of financial difficulties experienced by the Louisiana purchasers. Finally, the spiritual concerns expressed by Roothaan were not fulfilled.
Complaints from fellow Jesuits, especially Fr. Stephen Dubuisson, S.J., Fr. Peter Haverman, S.J., Fr. Thomas Lilly, S.J., and Fr. Ignatius White, S.J., and from Samuel Eccleston, the Archbishop of Baltimore, led Roothaan to oust Mulledy as provincial. Dubuisson had briefly served as president of Georgetown College and pastor of Holy Trinity from 1825-1826. At the time of the sale, he was pastor of St. Mary’s in Alexandria, Virginia. Dubuisson, although he did not view slavery itself as immoral, opposed the sale of the enslaved by the Jesuits as immoral. He feared that if those enslaved by the Jesuits were sold, that they would be ill-treated and abused, that they would be denied education and that their right to marry would not be recognized. (18) Havermans, as the superior at Newtown, had significantly improved the conditions of the enslaved there. (19) Havermans charged Mulledy of being like “slave traders who value nothing except money.” (20)
Fr. Lilly, who was at St. Thomas Manor, was outraged. Mulledy, accompanied by Johnson and a sheriff, had arrived without notice to prevent the Jesuits at St. Thomas from warning the enslaved and allowing them to go into hiding. Lilly wrote to Roothaan that he had been deceived by Mulledy. Lilly wrote, the enslaved, “were dragged off by force to the ship and led off to Louisiana. The danger to their souls is certain.” (21) Fr. Ignatius White, the superior at White Mash, who opposed slavery in general, denounced the sale as tantamount to slave trading. (22)
The unfulfilled conditions and the subsequent uproar led Roothaan to remove Mulledy as provincial. (23) In disgrace, he was called to Rome. He feared that he might be removed from the order. However, in 1843, after a few years in exile he was allowed to return to the United States. Bishop Benedict Fenwick, S.J., of Boston requested that Mulledy become the president of Holy Cross College, which Fenwick was setting up in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Bishop Fenwick was a Jesuit from Maryland. He had studied at Georgetown College before entering the Jesuits. In June 1817 he had become president of Georgetown College and simultaneously succeeded Fr. Francis Neale as pastor of Holy Trinity. He became the bishop of Boston in 1825. He was the great-great-great grandson of Cuthbert Fenwick who had come to Maryland on the Ark in 1633. Bishop Fenwick had opposed the sale by the Jesuits of the enslaved. He wrote to his brother Fr. George Fenwick, S.J., “extraordinary news. Poor Negroes! I pity them.” (24) George Fenwick had been one of the four Jesuit consultors who joined Mulledy and McSherry to provide the majority who approved the sale over the substantial objection of the other consultors. Fr. Mulledy subsequently served as pastor of Holy Trinity from 1857 to 1858.
In 1848, following a trip to Louisiana, Fr. James van der Velde, S.J., (25) the Western Provincial of the Jesuits, wrote to Fr. Mulledy concerning the spiritual neglect of the enslaved people the Maryland Jesuits had sold to slave holders in Louisiana. Fr. Van der Velde wrote,
They are all very good people, industrious, faithful, moral, &c. - the character given to them by their owners & their neighbors. But they have scarcely any chance to attend to their religious duties, & the children, several of them not yet baptized, grew up without any religious instruction whatever. Mr Thompson’s plantation is about 10 miles from Donaldsonville, where there is a Catholic church attended by the Lazaristo, & to reach it they have to cross the Bayou Lafourche. Some of the stoutest can walk it, & do sometimes, - but very seldom, - as the distance is so great, & their services are generally wanted at home. The women & children have a cart at their disposal, but they scarcely ever use it; & the cart, after all, could accommodate but a very small number. Then all they can do is to hear Mass, - the sermon being always in French, of which they do not understand. Some of the women told me weeping that they had not been to Church for more than a year, & these women appeared strong & healthy, but they have either to attend to their children, or to household works, & cannot absent themselves so long. Hence you may judge how it fares with the aged, infirm, the children, &c.
To tell you the truth, I am of opinion that the Provce of Md is in conscience bound to contribute to it,[the building of a Catholic Church for the enslaved] & thus to provide for the salvation of those poor people who are now utterly neglected, & whose children grow up without any notion of Religion. Justice as well as Charity require that their former masters should step in & aid other well-disposed persons to procure them the means of salvation. I therefore entreat yr Revce to lay the subject before the Provincial & his consultors, & to lose no time in providing for those poor abandoned people, - who, though neglected, are still firmly attached to their Religion. (26)
When Fr. Van de Velde received no reply, he wrote in November 1848, to Fr. Ignatius Brocard, S.J., the provincial of the Maryland Jesuits. He wrote,
I take the liberty of writing a word to you again in order to plead the cause of the poor negroes, who previously belonged to your Province, and who are now found destitute of nearly all religious succor in Louisiana.
I may be mistaken, but it appears to me that the Province of Maryland is obligated by conscience to procure them succor and to make some sacrifices in this matter… I think of these poor people, particularly the children, who, bit by bit, lose religion. It is an extreme case. If justice does not demand it (although I am of the opinion that it demands it in this case), at least security asks it.
All that is asked is that the Province of Maryland contribute $1,000, the neighbors will contribute the rest; and what is a mere $1,000 for the province that has the income from so many farms, and which has already received so large a sum for these poor exiles? … [W]ho knows if the refusal of coming to their aid will not attract misfortune on the Province? I myself am very worried about this, and if I seem tiresome to you, I am sure that you will pardon me for it, since it is for the good of these poor abandoned children that I importune you. (27)
Despite the complaints of Fr. Van der Velde nothing was done.
A year after the sale of the enslaved people from the Jesuits’ Maryland estates, Pope Gregory XVI issued on December 3, 1839, an authoritative papal statement, a Papal Bull, In supremo apostolates. In this document Pope Gregory unambiguously condemned the buying and selling of slaves, and the whole institution of slavery. Pope Gregory stated,
We have judged that it belonged to Our pastoral solicitude to exert Ourselves to turn away the Faithful from the inhuman slave trade in Negroes and all other men… We say with profound sorrow – there were to be found afterwards among the Faithful men who, shamefully blinded by the desire of sordid gain, in lonely and distant countries, did not hesitate to reduce to slavery Indians, negroes and other wretched peoples, or else, by instituting or developing the trade in those who had been made slaves by others, to favour their unworthy practice. Desiring to remove such a shame from all the Christian nations, having fully reflected over the whole question … We warn and adjure earnestly in the Lord faithful Christians of every condition that no one in the future dare to vex anyone, despoil him of his possessions, reduce to servitude, or lend aid and favour to those who give themselves up to these practices, or exercise that inhuman traffic by which the Blacks, as if they were not men but rather animals, having been brought into servitude, in no matter what way, are, without any distinction, in contempt of the rights of justice and humanity, bought, sold, and devoted sometimes to the hardest labour. Further, in the hope of gain, propositions of purchase being made to the first owners of the Blacks, dissensions and almost perpetual conflicts are aroused in these regions.
We reprove, then, by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority, all the practices abovementioned as absolutely unworthy of the Christian name. By the same Authority We prohibit and strictly forbid any Ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this traffic in Blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse… (28)
The sale of the enslaved people of the Jesuit plantations and Pope Gregory’s 1839 denunciation of slavery did not end the involvement of the Maryland Jesuits in the enslavement of people.
Between 1840 and 1850, Georgetown College continued to utilize enslaved labor. Ten enslaved men cleaned and cooked. They labored at a college farm and a vacation villa. (29) Two enslaved women washed the clothes of the students and priests. (30) In addition to renting the services of enslaved people, the Jesuits of Georgetown bought Charles Taylor in 1842 for $300, and Aloysius in 1844 for $635. (31) Despite the sale of enslaved plantation workers in 1838, that year did not end the use of enslaved labor by the Jesuits on their plantations. Just five years after the sale of the 272, the Jesuits bought an enslaved man, Len, for their plantations in 1843. (32)
Slavery ended in Georgetown before the end of the Civil War. The enslaved men and women, who were members of Holy Trinity’s congregation, and any owned by the College, were freed in 1862. President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862. This act ended slavery in the District, and compensated slaveholders of the District up to $300 for each emancipated enslaved person. (33)
Maryland, though a slave state, had not joined the Confederacy. Therefore, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not apply to enslaved people in Maryland. Maryland held a constitutional convention in 1864. If Len was still enslaved by the Maryland Jesuits, he and any other enslaved people remaining under the control of Maryland’s Jesuits were freed by the new constitution, which ended slavery, and was narrowly passed by a general referendum on November 1, 1864. As Pope Gregory wrote there was no “longer pretext or excuse.”
1. Fr. Kenney returned for a second inspection of the Maryland Jesuits in 1830. Rev. Fr. Peter Kenney, “Extraordinary Consultation,” August 20, 1832, and “Memorial, 1832.” MPA, box 126, folders 2 and 6, referenced by Craig Steven Wilder, “War and Priests: Catholic Colleges and Slavery in the Age of Revolution,” pp. 24-25, and Kenney, “Temporalities,” 1820, Maryland Province Archives X-T-1, Georgetown University Library Special Collections, referenced by Robert Emmett Curran, “’Splendid Poverty’: Jesuit Slaveholding in Maryland, 1805-1838,” pp. 37-38.
2. Mendoza referring to Peter Kenney (1779–1841) to Louis DeBarth (d.1822), April 24, 1820, Box 59, Folder 7, MPA. See also Robert Emmett Curran, “Peter Kenney: Twice Visitor of the Maryland Mission (1819–21, 1830–33) and Father of the First Two American Provinces,” in With Eyes and Ears Open: The Role of Visitors in the Society of Jesus, ed. Thomas M. McCoog, Jesuit Studies, 21 (Leiden: Brill, 2019), pp. 191–213.
3. The Flemish Jesuits are usually referred to as Belgians. However, technically there was no Belgium in 1822. The former Austrian Netherlands had been joined to the United Kingdom of Netherlands at the Congress of Vienna. Belgium did not emerge as an independent country until after the Belgian Revolution of 1830.
4. David Collins, S.J., Andrew Dial, Kelly Schmidt, Laura Weis, and Ayan Ali, Jesuit Slavery in North America: An Overview, Washington, D.C., July 30, 2020. https://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/resources-by-theme/04-jesuits-and-slavery-in-north-america-jan2021.pdf. DuBourg was born in Saint-Domingue and was sent to France for education. There he became a Sulpician. Forced to leave France during the French Revolution, he came to the United States in 1794. He ministered in Baltimore under Bishop Carroll and was appointed president of Georgetown in 1794. He contributed to the growth of the college but amassed a large debt and was replaced as president in 1798. In 1812 he was appointed apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Two Floridas. He was elevated to the status of bishop in 1812. Because of opposition to his authority in New Orleans, he moved his residence to St. Louis.
5. Kelly L. Schmidt, “A National Legacy of Enslavement: An Overview of the Work of the History, Memory, and Reconciliation Project,” Journal Of Jesuit Studies, Vol. 8, Issue 1, December 15, 2020, pp. 81-107, https://doi.org/10.1163/22141332-0801P005.
Kelly quoting, Maryland Provincial’s Instructions to Charles Felix Van Quickenborne, 1823, Box 2.0018, Folder 2. General Governance Collection, MIS.2.0018. Jesuit Archives and Research Center, St. Louis, Missouri.
8. Mulledy to Roothaan, Georgetown, January 7, 1830, MD 3-IV-20, Archivium Romanum Societatis Jesu, Roman Archives of the Society of Jesus, (henceforth ARSI), cited by Curran, p. 42.
9. August 28, 1832, MD 4-1-23, ARSI referenced by Curran, p. 42.
10. Curran, p. 43. Both Mulledy and McSherry came from families who held enslaved people. However, they felt that the plantations distracted the Maryland Jesuits from serving the spiritual needs of the increasing numbers of Irish immigrants in the eastern cities.
11. “ ‘They want them . . . for their Plantations’: Fr. Kenney to Fr. Neale on their plans to sell a group of slaves to a Louisiana planter, Sept. 10, 1832,” GULSC, MPA, https://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/117.
12. Roothaan to McSherry, December 27, 1836, MPA, Box 93, Folder 9, Booth Family Center for Special Collections, Georgetown University, “Fr. Roothaan, S.J. lays out the conditions for the sale of enslaved persons, 27 December 1836,” GULSC, http://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/94.
13. Roothaan to McSherry, October 27, 1836, MPA F-3—A-F5-E, GULSC, referenced by Curran, p.46. See Rachael Swarns, “272 Slaves were sold to save Georgetown. What does it owe their Descendants?,” The New York Times, April 16, 2016.
14. Collins, Dial, Schmidt, Weis, and Ali, Jesuit Slavery in North American: An Overview.
16. Samuel Eccleston, the Archbishop of Baltimore, a Sulpician, had asserted a claim on behalf of the Archdiocese of Baltimore for the lands and enslaved held by the Jesuits. Collins, Dial, Schmidt, Weis, and Ali, Jesuit Slavery in North American: An Overview.
17. See Curran, p. 53, n. 81.
18. Cornelius Michael Buckley, Stephen Larigaudelle Dubuisson, S.J. (1786–1864) and the Reform of the American Jesuits (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2013), p. 237.
19. Curran, p. 38.
20. Havermans to Roothaan, Newtown, October 20, 1838, MD 7-1-9, ARSL, quoted by Curran, p. 48.
21. Lilly to Roothaan, St. Thomas Manor, July 2, 1838, MD 7-II-I, ARSL, cited by Curran, p.47.
22. Curran, p. 44.
23. Collins, Dial, Schmidt, Weis, and Ali, Jesuit Slavery in North American: An Overview.
24. Benedict Fenwick to George Fenwick, Boston, September 1, 1838, MPA212-N-2, GULSC, quoted by Curran, pp. 47-48.
25. James Olliver van der Velde, a Fleming, completed his Jesuit novitiate at Georgetown, where he served as librarian from 1818 to 1831. He subsequently became the vice-provincial of the Jesuits in the United States and then provincial of the Jesuit’s western province. He taught at Saint Louis University and served as its president from 1840 to 1843, before becoming the Bishop of Chicago. Because of health reasons, he requested transfer to the Diocese of Natchez in Mississippi and died only 23 months after his arrival in Natchez.
26. Maryland Province Archives, “Letter from James Van de Velde, S.J. to Thomas Mulledy, S.J., March 28, 1848,” GULSC, https://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/3
27. Translation of a letter of Fr. Van de Velde to Fr. Ignatius Brocard, S.J., the provincial of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, which was written in French. Maryland Province Archives, “Letter from James Van de Velde, S.J. to Ignatius Brocard, S.J., November 27, 1848,” GULSC, http://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/90.
29. Mendoza, referencing 191A Ledger, Box 68, Addenda MPA; Washington Lots, House Ledger, 1846–1862 (I.AA.i.f),; Various Accounts, Students, Workmen, Societies , 1837–1846 (I.AA.1.h.); Ledger F, 1838–1842 (I.A.1.h.),; Ledger G, 1841–1845 (I.A.1.i),; Expense Book, 1841–1845 (I.A.3.k.), GUL Archives.
30. Mendoza, referencing Day Book, 1837–1854 (I.A.4.h); Journal G, 1838–1875 (I.A.2.e.); Ledger F., 1838–1842 (I.A.1.h); CB, 1845–1853 (I.A.3.m.), all located in the GUL Archives. For washhouse conditions, see “Infirmary Book, 1840–1857,” Box 2, Folder 3, IC, GUL Archives; Consultation of December 9, 1840, Georgetown University’s Consultors Books, Box 6, Folder 1, GUL Archives.
31. Mendoza, referencing Expense Book, 1841–1845 (I.A.3.k.); Various Accounts, Students, Workmen, Societies , 1837–1846 (I.A.A.1.h.); Brother Sylvester Clarke’s Memoranda Book, and For Aloysius sale, CB, 1841–1845 (I.A.3.j.), all GUL Archives.
32. Mendoza referencing Box 6, Folder 5, MPA, GULA; Vespre to Woodley, April 16, 1844, Letter Book 2, Box 77, Addenda to the MPA, GULA.
33. DC Emancipation Act, 04/16/1862; Record Group 11; General Records of the United States Government; National Archives.