The Society of Jesus participated in the institution of slavery in North America from the colonial era until the passage of the 13th Amendment. The involuntary labor of the people the Jesuits owned, rented, and borrowed helped establish, expand, and sustain Jesuit missionary efforts and educational institutions in colonial North America and, over time, across the United States. The Jesuits’ use of enslaved labor is a legacy shared by all Jesuits and Jesuit institutions.
Slavery was not an institution that operated in isolation. Slaveholders, and slaveowning institutions, shared in their complicity of holding human beings in bondage.
By saying “owned, rented, and borrowed,” we are acknowledging that the Jesuits’ participation in the systems of slavery was far more widespread than it appears if we only pay attention to the lives of people they owned directly. Jesuits exploited the lives and labor of people they rented from other local owners, and people they received as loans without the expectation of compensation to the slaveowner.
In Grand Coteau, Louisiana, for example, the Jesuits legally owned at least 13 people. But they relied on the labor of more than 47 other enslaved people provided by others. Because their coerced labor benefited the Jesuits and their institutions, it is important to understand the lives of each of these enslaved people—owned, rented, and borrowed—and share their stories.
1703 – 1763
At its height, the forced labor of 68 indigenous and African enslaved people supported the Jesuits on their Kaskaskia plantation in Illinois Country.
1717 – 1865
Jesuits owned enslaved people at several plantations, farms, and schools in Maryland and Pennsylvania, including at Georgetown University. They sold more than 272 enslaved people from their plantations to southern Louisiana in a notorious sale in 1838. Learn more at the Georgetown Slavery Archive.
1726 – 1763
French Jesuits expanded their slaveholding from the Caribbean to colonial New Orleans, where they established a plantation on which about 150 enslaved people cultivated sugar, figs, indigo, oranges, and other products. These plantations supplied the income Jesuits used for their educational and missionary activities.
1823 – 1865
In 1823, Thomas and Molly Brown, Moses and Nancy Queen, and Isaac and Susanna Hawkins were forced on a journey from Maryland with twelve Jesuits to found the Missouri Mission. The families of Protus and Anny Hawkins and Jack and Sally Queen were forced on the same journey seven years later.
1831 – 1846
French Jesuits assumed the ownership of enslaved people at St. Mary’s College when they took over its administration. They relied on the forced labor of Rachel, Teresa, and more than 15 other people until they left to run what is now Fordham University in New York. They left their enslaved people with the priests who took over St. Mary’s College.
1839 – 1865
When French Jesuits opened St. Charles College, they purchased three enslaved people: Philodie and her daughter Rachel, and Ignatius Gough. In addition, Jesuits rented or borrowed enslaved people from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart and local slaveowners. Over time, the number of people the Jesuits owned grew.
1847 – 1865
Slavery pervaded Spring Hill College’s history since its founding in 1830. We know little about the lives of enslaved people at the college, especially after Jesuits took over in 1847, primarily because fires destroyed many of the college’s earliest records. We will share information as we learn more.
1848 – 1865
When Jesuits took over operation of St. Joseph College from the diocese of Louisville, they kept all of the enslaved people then at the college, except Charles, Dave and his wife Maria, and their children. In addition to the people they owned, they rented other enslaved people from local lay slaveowners, clergy, and women’s religious orders.
We learn more every day about the lives of the people the Jesuits held in bondage. Their experiences were similar to those of other enslaved people in the United States. Although they endured abysmal living conditions, physical violence, family separation and the rupture of relationships, enslaved people were resilient, going to courageous lengths to protect themselves and their families, resist their enslavement, and achieve freedom.