Draft posted 20220312; Temperature chart updated 20220319

In 1828, Francis Neale, SJ wrote in dismay to Francis Dzierozynski, SJ. Brother Joseph Marshall had left St. Inigoe's Manor taking a significant number of animal hides with him. As a result, Neale had no leather for the shoemaker to work with to provision the enslaved population. In the absence of this supply, he would be forced to purchase between $50-60 of leather with money he simply did not have. He would be forced to borrow the money and pay it back after the tobacco harvest. Neale's alarm speaks to the ongoing financial straights of the Jesuit plantations, but also to the fact that providing for the needs of the enslaved community was done on the thinnest of margins.1

Given the context of the harsh climate, the modest allowance the Jesuits made for clothing their bonds people appears very stark, though their practices were in line with the other slave owners in their era. Individual plantation account books offer detailed portraits of the ways that the farm managers approached keeping their enslaved people clothed. The earliest record of clothing purchases for the enslaved stems from the Newtown memorandum book in the 1740s. Two pages of transactions list purchases of cotton or linen breeches, shirts, petticoats, frocks, coats, jackets, and vests for “our people.”2

In 1791, Francis Beeston, SJ described the early allowance of clothing for the enslaved people who lived at Bohemia Manor:

Men & working boys -- One Winter suit consisting of one woolen jacket & breeches (or, trowsers, at option of Master): one pair yarn stockings; one pair shoes. -- Two shirts -- one pair linen trowsers, for summer.
Women & working girls -- One woolen short gown and petticoat, for winter -- one linen petticoat, for summer -- two shifts -- one pair shoes -- one pair yarn stockings every other year; & feeting, alternately.
Children -- As necessity requires.
N.B. Blankets, when necessary3

Bohemia’s record book also includes a systematic account of each piece of clothing and blanket distributed to each individual enslaved person between 1790 and 1796, which detailed the type and quantity of cloth including ticklenburg linen, tow linen, linen, and green baize.4 These fabrics were typical of those selected to cloth enslaved people across British North American, comprise of cotton or wool or both, and known to be cheap but durable.5 In Beeston’s case, he purchased the cloth from a fuller rather than employing members of the enslaved community to weave it. 6

These provision accounts coincide with periods of deep cold in the region. As such the notion that blankets might not be necessary is stark. Thomas Jefferson's especially diligent record keeping with respect to the weather helps provide a general context for the Colonial and Early National periods that sheds some light on what the enslaved people in Maryland might have endured. While his travels took him to Paris and to Philadelphia, the majority of Jefferson's observations were from the Chesapeake area, centering on his home at Monticello, in Charlottesville VA and Poplar Forest in Bedford, VA, and Washington D.C. His observations reinforce the impression that the cold would have been a persistent menace for the enslaved. Between 1794 and 1799, the lowest temperatures noted for the winter months were consistently between 10 and 20 degrees Fahrenheit. A shirt and a woolen jacket would have scarcely been enough to provide consistent warmth for an enslaved person in those conditions. The observations from 1804 to 1809 were even more extreme with the lowest observed temperature of -33 degrees Fahrenheit in 1807.

Made with Flourish

Beeston's approach to clothing the people for whom he was responsible in the 1790s continued to be the general practice for decades to come. Twenty five years later, in his duties managing St. Inigoe’s Manor, Brother Joseph P. Mobberly provided similar types and quantities of garments, but rather than buying fabric, he depended on the skill and labour of the enslaved to make much of the clothing. Reflecting in 1823 on his managerial tasks, Mobberly explained:

Each labourer received from the farm for summer, 2 shirts, and one pr. of double soaled shoes, one pr. of stockings, one pr. of pantaloons and a round-about coat, all made on the farm from the crops of wool and flax. --The women received 2 shifts and 1 habit for summer, and for winter 1 pr. of double soaled shoes, 1 pr. stockings, 1 petticoat, & 1 short gown. 7

True to Mobberly’s summary, a ledger for St. Inigoe’s includes a record from March and April 1818 detailing the purchase of shoes for nearly 50 enslaved people.8

Mobberly’s reference to the enslaved as labourers gives away his perspective about the primary role of identity of these individuals as workers, but he also hinted at the larger social and cultural life of the enslaved by noting, “Hats & sunday app al, they provided with their own funds.”9 This node to style and personalization give one of the few glances into the world of that the enslaved people made in moment free from labor and the surveillance of the overseers and farm managers. In this, Mobberly gestures at what Stephanie Camp has designated “the slave’s third body: a thing to be claimed and enjoyed, a site of pleasure and resistance.”10

Just as Camp's groundbreaking work highlighted the ways that careful attention to fashion, adornment, and celebration was a political act that exemplified individuality, the Jesuits' strict adherence to the most basic of provisions aligned with their general approach to providing for themselves. Unlike other area slaveholders who were accumulating wealth and its trappings in colonial and early national Maryland, the vows and religious mission of the priest-slaveholders rendered material acquisitions less prominent in their minds. As an order they held their assets in common and maintained a prescribed mode of dress. They were unlikely to appreciate the ways that durable and drab provisions were perceived by the enslaved as course, rough, and disagreeable. 11

  1. Francis Neale letter to Francis Dzierozynski (October 15, 1828) MPA, Box 61, Folder 25.
  2. MPA-3-15-NewtownMemorandum-1742-1748.json
  3. Records of Bohemia, 1790-1799, Maryland Province Collection [GTM.Gamms53], Francis Beeston, SJ, n.d. (Box 1, Folder 1). Upside down in the back of the Journal.
  4. Records of Bohemia, 1790-1799, Maryland Province Collection [GTM.Gamms53], Francis Beeston, SJ, 1791-1796 (Box 1, Folder 1).
  5. Madelyn Shaw, “Slave Cloth and Clothing Slaves: Craftsmanship, Commerce, and Industry,” The Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts 33 (2012),
  6. Records of Bohemia, 1790-1799, Maryland Province Collection [GTM.Gamms53], Francis Beeston, SJ, January 2, 1792 (Box 1, Folder 1) 8.
  7. Joseph P. Mobberly. Diary Volume 1. “Memorandum.” Georgetown University Archives, The Joseph Mobberly Papers, 1823. Pp ###.
  8. St. Inigoes Rent Ledger, MPA, Box 44, Folder 1, p. 52-53 (1804-MPA-44-1-StInigosRentLedger-1804-1832.json).
  9. Joseph P. Mobberly. Diary Volume 1. “Memorandum.” Georgetown University Archives, The Joseph Mobberly Papers, 1823. Pp ###.
  10. Stephanie M. H. Camp, Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South 1st New edition edition (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004) 66-68, 78-87.
  11. Kathleen M. Hilliard, Masters, Slaves, and Exchange: Power’s Purchase in the Old South (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014) 47.