Peter Queen, born between 1813 and 1817 in Maryland, was likely the son of either Jack and Sally Queen or Proteus and Anny Hawkins (sometimes referred to as Queen). As a teenager Peter was forced with his family from the Jesuits’ White Marsh plantation to the new Jesuit mission in Florissant, Missouri, in 1829.
The conditions Peter Queen entered with his family at Saint Stanislaus were miserable. Records suggest that Peter and the approximately fifteen other people forced to migrate from Maryland to Missouri in 1829 moved into the already cramped quarters housing the Brown, Hawkins, and Queen families who had lived there since 1823. Though new cabins were supposed to have been constructed, Charles Van Quickenborne, the Jesuit Superior at St. Stanislaus Seminary and farm, kept neglecting them in pursuit of new building projects. Though his own superior, Francis Dzierozynski of the Maryland mission, told him he could not begin new buildings without conferring with his consultors and that he must see to the construction of huts for the enslaved people promptly, he ignored these orders. In 1830, one of Van Quickenborne’s contemporaries wrote of the bondspeople, “no appearance yet of getting their cabins,” while another complained, “The wood destined for the huts of the slaves lies uncovered in the orchard. In this region…structures commonly are made in the field from a certain species of poplar, which if it is protected from rain, lasts a long time, but having been approached there, is marred in a short time and then, condemned, goes to ruin.”
Peter resented Van Quickenborne’s brutality; the Jesuit was known to spend so much time in the fields haranguing the enslaved people that neighbors perceived him as an overseer rather than a spiritual leader. Van Quickenborne regularly ordered enslaved people to be whipped as punishment, instances in which other enslaved people intervened. Peter Verhaegen wrote that in about 1829, Van Quickenborne had reproached two enslaved women and had entered into a struggle with them into which Verhaegen had to intervene to prevent his injury. Peter De Smet and other Jesuits wrote that the “quarrels and fights of Priest and blacks” had grown so bad, that most students of the Saint Regis Indian school had run away or withdrawn after witnessing brutality and being subjected to it themselves. Enslaved people accused Van Quickenborne of excessive drinking, and nicknamed him “Napoleon” due to his severity.
In about 1830, Van Quickenborne claimed that seventeen-year-old Peter had threated to kill him, though no other Jesuit had heard the alleged threat. Van Quickenborne subsequently directed that Peter, and possibly other members of his family, be sold. De Smet wrote that he attempted to intercede on Peter’s behalf: “I explained his case, to our good and tenderhearted Father Provincial, and I have reasons to believe, it prevented the selling of others.” But Peter was sold anyway. “[A]t least, that vile and despicable saying: ‘were we to sell a Negro (a Man) he would fetch five hundred dollars.’ had not been heard any longer in our house,” De Smet remarked.
Peter’s kin enslaved on the Saint Stanislaus farm made their anger and mourning known to the Jesuits, refusing to let them forget what they had done. “His poor parents…constantly lament his loss, and the people are far from being happy and satisfied,” wrote De Smet. Following Peter’s sale, enslaved people’s displeasure with Van Quickenborne grew so strong that Van Quickenborne did not dare to sleep in his own room at night and “passed many nights with the door of his room being observed.” Enslaved people voiced their complaints about their treatment among neighbors until they “burst forth in public.” The rumors of mistreatment and Van Quickenborne’s “vice of drinking liquor at time excessively” came back to the Jesuits, forcing them to reflect upon and reconsider their actions, though many still felt that the treatment of their enslaved people was “not always unfair and ill-advised.” Peter’s parents never ceased mourning the loss of their son, nor relented in pushing to have him returned to them. For two years they pressured Theodore DeTheux, who had replaced Van Quickenborne as superior, to buy their son back. DeTheux wrote that Peter’s parents “never stopped asking me to repurchase” him.
After two years of constant insistence, Peter’s parents succeeded at convincing DeTheux to buy their son back. By this time Peter was in the possession of Louis Barada of St. Charles, Missouri. Born in St. Louis in 1792, Louis Barada lived in St. Charles for most of his life, working in the butchering and milling businesses. He also assisted the Jesuits in the construction of the stone St. Charles Borromeo church in 1828 and served as one of its trustees until his death in 1852. Most of the money for Peter’s purchase came from DeTheux’s mother, who assisted her son by sending alms she had raised from Belgium. At last, in May 1832, Peter Queen and his family were reunited.
While laboring at St. Stanislaus, Peter met Marian, who was enslaved to local farmer Major Richard Graham. Peter and Marian married on December 30, 1843 and had three children: Elizabeth (born in September 1845), Gabriel (born in October 1847), and Thomas William (born in April 1849). The Queen and Hawkins families of St. Stanislaus served as witnesses at Peter’s marriage and godparents to his children, indicative of how kinship networks were reestablished in the face of the forced migrations intrinsic to chattel slavery.
In 1849, the same year as the birth of his youngest child, Peter was sold away from his family in Florissant and made to labor at the Jesuit-run St. Joseph’s College in Bardstown, Kentucky. Records state that Jesuits believed the presences of Peter and Marian “greatly harmed” the other enslaved people at St. Stanislaus. It is difficult to determine the context and meaning of this claim. The Jesuits were frequently concerned that the example set by enslaved people who were acting “immorally” might influence other bondspeople. It is also possible that Peter and Marian were fomenting resistance among the enslaved community, and the Jesuits, feeling threatened by the prospect of confrontation or an uprising, decided to sell Peter in an attempt to quell unrest. Whatever the reason, Peter was forced to abandon his wife and young children and move across state lines despite Jesuit regulations prohibiting the separation of families. Peter left the small amount of money he had with the Jesuits to support his family. Marian withdrew the money over the following months. It is difficult to imagine the pain he felt leaving his wife and young children, the oldest of whom was just three years old.
A few weeks after being forced to travel to Kentucky and begin laboring on St. Joseph’s campus, Peter ran away. Fr. Peter Verhaegen, then president of St. Joseph’s and former president of Saint Louis University, posted an advertisement in local papers offering a reward of fifty dollars for Peter’s “apprehension and safe confinement in the Bardstown jail,” which repeated in the papers for three days from November 10-13, 1849. Peter was caught soon after his escape. On November 13, 1849, the same day as the posting of the third advertisement, the Jesuit consultors of the Missouri Province questioned “whether we ought to sell the slave Peter, who ran away and is now spending time in prison [in] (Louisville).” Ultimately, they agreed unanimously that “he should be sold.” After experiencing forced migration, separation from his family, and imprisonment, Peter Queen was sold away. We do not know if he and his family were ever reunited.
About a month later, the Jesuits began debating how to spend the revenue from Peter’s sale. They agreed to use the proceeds to purchase an enslaved woman named Mary Hoppins Queen. Mary was the widow of Gabriel Hawkins (Queen) and the wife of Augustine Queen, both of whom were held in bondage by Jesuits in Missouri. The Jesuits may have purchased Mary to uphold their rule against splitting up families; they claimed to have done so in order to prevent her from the imminent probability that she would be separated from her husband Augustine, likely because her owner planned to move or sell her to another slaveholder. Jesuit adherence to prohibitions against separating enslaved families was inconsistent, however, as they used the proceeds resulting from the fracturing of Peter Queen’s family to preserve Mary and Augustine’s family.
We do not yet know what became of Peter Queen. His wife and children remained enslaved to the Graham family, and were bequeathed to Richard Graham’s heirs at his death in 1857. We will continue to update this page as we learn more about Peter and his family and hope that further research will grant insight into what their lives were like.
This research was compiled by Kelly L. Schmidt and Ayan Ali. Recommended citation: Kelly L. Schmidt and Ayan Ali, “Peter Queen and His Family,” Slavery, History, Memory, and Reconciliation Project, 2021.
Updated: January 2021