Jesuit Slaveholding

Draft posted: 2019-02-09

Roots in Maryland

Though the Jesuits landed in Maryland with the earliest settlers in 1634, there is little direct evidence of their participation in enslavement until nearly 80 years later. Mathias de Sousa's presence among the founding community shows that there were people of African descent about, but the presence of enslaved people in those early years is quite speculative. The most thorough account of this early period comes from Joseph Zwinge, SJ, in his series on the history of the Jesuit farms in Maryland, published in the Woodstock Letters between 1910 and 1914. Zwinge notes that Thomas Copley was involved in a lawsuit that mentioned a boy being sold in Virginia for 20 pounds. Given the age, the person was likely to have been enslaved, not indentured. He further speculates that two servants on a Jesuit farm in 1664 were also possibly enslaved.1

In the face of growing Protestant persecution, William Hunter, SJ took steps to record all of the property held at the Newtown estate, in fear that it would be confiscated. His inventory represents the first known archival document that named individual enslaved people owned by the Jesuits: "Negro servants 15. -- 4men, Will, Jack, Kill, Peter. 4 women.-- Mary, Teresa, Clare, Pegg. 4 boyes, Jack, Clemm, Tomm, James. 3 girles, Betty, Cate, Susan." Hunter was set to deed all of the property associated with the Newtown estate in trust to local layperson, Thomas Jameson, but the circumstances never arose to force him to execute the deed.2

There is little we can know for sure about these individuals, based on the spare list present in the deed of gift. Yet, we can speculate. There is numeric parity in gender on the list: four men and four women. Given the presence of the seven boys and girls, some of these men and women were intimately involved with one another. Unfortunately, we cannot exactly discern the outlines of these families. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Jesuits at Newtown owned a community of enslaved people who together were raising children, perhaps born at Newtown or purchased with their parents from other Maryland enslavers.

James Carroll, Benefactor

While the origins of the first generation of enslaved people owned by the Jesuits is not fully documented, it is clear that the planning of local elite lay people contributed to their ability to accumulate both land and human property. Planter and merchant, James Carroll was a primary benefactor in the first half of the Eighteenth Century. Like others around him, Carroll farmed and traded tobacco using prime land in Maryland. But, as an immigrant from Ireland and a nephew of Charles Carroll the Settler, he also leveraged his close position to the Calvert family to translated political work in to economic and status gains. Carroll arrived in Maryland around 1700, just as a period of religious turmoil was accelerating for Maryland Catholics Tobacco planter and merchant active between 1700 and 1729. After the establishment of the Church of England in 1692, the colonial government pursued a host of anti-Catholic laws, that included the disenfranchisement of Catholics in 1718.3

Despite this ongoing struggle, Carroll vociferously defended his right to religious freedom. At the same time, he built up a considerable fortune through local office as "Rent Roll Keeper," where he kept track of land ownership and taxes owed for the Calverts. This role proved lucrative for the decade after 1706. As rights for Catholics in the colony deteriorated, so did Carroll's ability to use his political position for economic gain. By 1716, Carroll had turned his attention to other ventures, increasing his activities as a merchant engaged in both local and trans-Atlantic activities. Soon, he was in a network of exchange that not only supplied tobacco to England, but also imported enslaved people from Africa.4

Charles Flanagan's meticulous examination of James Carroll's Daybook, which covers the period between 1714 and 1721, lays out the extent to which Carroll's economic activity became fully enmeshed in the buying and selling of human beings during this period. The transactions outlined in the ledger show Carroll buying and selling both indentured servants and enslaved people in 1715 and 1716, leveraging a well-articulated system of credit and trust among local merchants and landed elite.5 On his estates, Carroll's planter operation depended on the labor of a core group of enslaved people, supplemented by hired help. The daybook includes a list of Carroll's enslaved people as of September 27, 1715, noting their names, ages, origins, and in some cases dates of death. There are also entries from July 1716. This core group of individuals worked across three farms and hand in hand with employees and indentured servants, raising tobacco, cereals, and livestock.6

With changing economic circumstances, Carroll branched out into the other trading ventures, culminating with him and his uncle Charles Carroll investing in importing and selling enslaved people from Sierra Leone. In 1718, together with other merchants, the Carroll's underwrote the passage of the Margaret through the triangular trade. In May of that year, through a London merchant, Carroll advanced money to established ship-owner Samuel Bonham, a merchant associated with the Royal Africa Company. That investment made it possible for the Margaret to leave London laden with goods for West African coast. Those goods were then replaced by enslaved cargo provided by John Leadstone and Robert Plunkitt, of the Royal Africa Company in Sierra Leone. The ship departed the African coast with 136 captives en route for Annapolis, and arrived in the Chesapeake in the middle of August 1718 with a cargo of 117 individuals. In the subsequent days, Carroll managed the sale of 108 enslaved people. Additionally, Carroll purchased two people for himself, and his uncle Charles paid for six individuals. By the close of the venture, Carroll's accounts suggest he not only recovered his initial investment, he also earned nearly 115 pounds and was able to purchase two enslaved people for his plantations. Thus, the slave trade proved to be Carroll's most lucrative business venture as he entered the latter stages of his career.7

The Jesuits in the Maryland Province directly benefited from James Carroll's shrewd foray into slave trading in 1729, when upon his death he left the bulk of his land and all of his enslaved property to them in his will. With no children to serve as direct heirs, Carroll prioritized supporting the education of his nephews and providing for the ongoing support for the clergy who were central to his ability to maintain his Catholic faith in Maryland. After deciding that Charles Carroll, Esquire (James's cousin and father of Charles Carroll of Carrollton) may not survive to fulfill his wishes of securing the property for the Jesuits, Carroll drafted a codicil to his will that left the inheritance to George Thorold, SJ, directly: this Codicill do hereby give, devise and bequeath the aforesaid lands, goods and chattles, in as full and ample manner unto the aforesaid George Thorold, his heirs and assignes for ever, as the same are bequeathed to my aforesaid cosin. And do hereby give and bequeath the aforementioned lands and the goods and chattles aforesaid unto the said George Thorold, his heirs and assigns for ever. And, in case of his death before me, then I bequeath the aforesaid lands, goods, and chattles, unto my very good friend, Mr. Peter Attwood of Portobacco aforesaid, his heirs and assignes for ever. And, in case of both their deaths before myne, then I bequeath aforesaid lands and goods and chattles unto Mr. Joseph Greaton, his heirs and assignes for ever.8

Through this bequest to the Jesuits, those lands and the people who resided there came to form what would eventually be known as the White Marsh and Fingaul estates. Though some historians have pointed to sources from the early twentieth century speculating that the enslaved population conveyed through the Carroll inheritance numbered over 100, the Carroll's July 1729 probate inventory suggests a much more modest number of 31 or 32 people, with 16 people on the large estate in Prince George's County and 16 people at Fingaul. Regardless of the number, the Jesuits were the beneficiaries of wealth accumulated through shrewd business practices in trade in tobacco and human beings. That acquired wealth was transferred as land and people that only appreciated and grew over time.9 The first direct evidence of this inherited community does not appear in the Jesuit archives until the 1760s, when John Lewis, SJ endeavored to record the enslaved people who resided at White Marsh and Fingaul.10

A Growing Community

The nucleus of the White Marsh enslaved community that was transmitted through James Carroll's estate planning offers the clearest picture of how the Jesuits acquired their enslaved property. Undoubtedly, there were other smaller inheritances from faithful lay Catholics around southern Maryland. Moreover, just as their neighbors bought and sold enslaved people so to did the Jesuits. The first clear transaction of this kind came in 1756, when the priests at Bohemia purchased a man named Tom from William Hall. Presumably, other similar transactions occurred, without surviving documentation, because by the 1750s the administrators on all of the plantation were recording births, baptisms, and marriages on their estates. The first of these records was a note about the birth of a baby boy named Dick born to his mother Betty in May 1750 at Bohemia Manor.11

By 1765, George Hunter, SJ, paused to take stock of the Jesuit holdings across all of the estates in an annual report for the English Provincial, Fr. Dennett, who then forwarded it to Rome. The report offers a revealing snapshot of the functioning of the estates and the place of enslaved people and labor in supporting the mission.


Estate Total Enslaved Workers Indoors Fields Child/Elderly
St. Inigoe's Manor 20 12 3 9 8
Newtown 29 15 3 12 14
St. Thomas's Manor 38 21 3 18 17
White Marsh 65 29 3 26 36
St. Joseph's Manor 7 5 1 4 2
St. Marie's Manor 7 4 1 3 3
Bohemia Manor 26 15 3 12 11
Total 192 101 17 84 91


Across the holdings, with a total of nearly 12,700 acres of land, the Jesuits managed to generate an annual income of L696 sterling. In addition to the lands that they managed, they had 40 tenants, but those residents generated only L208 income, far less than L488 income generated by the labor of the enslaved workers. Furthermore, while they collectively owned 192 individuals, making the order one of the largest slaveholders in the colony, slightly more than half that number actively labored, leaving nearly as many dependants who required food, clothing, and shelter. Of those who did labor, 83 percent worked in the fields.12

This community, as described by George Hunter represents the starting place for our most robust understanding of the shape of this enslaved community. The documents contained within the Maryland Province Archive read against the grain, offers us some ability to begin to understand the lives and experiences of this enslaved community over time.


  1. Joseph Zwinge, "The Jesuit Farms in Maryland. Facts and Anecdotes," Woodstock Letters XLI, no. 2 (1912): 204. This account is filtered through Zwinge's position as an educated white southerner in Jim Crow Maryland. The result is oftentimes deeply paternalistic and shaped by his relationship with African Americans in his life.
  2. Joseph Zwinge, "The Jesuit Farms in Maryland. Facts and Anecdotes," Woodstock Letters XL, no. 2 (1911): 198, and Newtown-Varia-(1668-1962) [100.5 Z3-8]., 01/01/1668-12/31/1962 File - Box: 27, Folder: 2; Deed of Gift (Jan. 30, 1717) between William Hunter and Thomas Jameson (100.5 Z5)
  3. Flanagan, Charles. "The Sweets of Independence: A Reading of the 'James Carroll Daybook, 1714-21.'" Dissertation. University of Maryland, 2005. 45.;jsessionid=9C8DCCC26DE8046F4B78155BDFBD9B66?sequence=1.
  4. Flanagan (2005), 10-13.
  5. Flanagan (2005), 177-185.
  6. Flanagan (2005), 186-196.
  7. Flanagan (2005), 227-250. See also, Herbert Brewer, "From Sierra Leone to Annapolis: The 1718 journey of the Margaret, an eighteenth century slave ship," (Georgetown University, 2018).
  8. "Codecil to James Carroll's Will, February 17, 1728," in Thomas Hughes, History of the Society of Jesus in North America : Colonial and Federal (Documents), vol. Volume 1, Part 1 (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908), 250-251.
  9. See Thomas Murphy, Jesuit Slaveholding in Maryland, 1717-1838, Studies in African American History and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2001) 35, n10, and Flanagan (2005), 389-393.
  10. Thomas Hughes, History of the Society of Jesus in North America Colonial and Federal (Documents), Vol. 1, Part 1 Nos. 1-140 (1605-1838) (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers company, 1908), pp. 230-231.
  12. and Thomas Hughes, History of the Society of Jesus in North America Colonial and Federal Documents, Vol. 1, Part 1 Nos. 1-140 (1605-1838) (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers company, 1908), pp. 335-338.