Healy Hall, the flagship building of Georgetown University's main campus in Washington, DC, is seen on September 30, 2011.

Healy Hall, the flagship building of Georgetown University's main campus in Washington, DC, is seen on September 30, 2011.

In 1838, Georgetown University sold 272 of the school’s slaves who worked the Jesuit owned plantations in Maryland. They were put on a ship in Alexandria, Virginia and sent to New Orleans. Georgetown needed an influx of cash to keep it afloat – and the sale, for over 3 million dollars in today’s dollars – did just that. Today, college campuses across the country are struggling with issues of race and the legacy of slavery. At Georgetown, confronting this history includes tracking down the descendants of these slaves sold nearly one hundred and eighty years ago. Diane and her guests discuss how Georgetown University once relied on the slave trade and efforts to reconcile with its past.


  • Adam Goodheart Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and author of "1861: The Civil War Awakening"
  • Craig Steven Wilder Professor of American history, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; author of "Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America's Universities" (2014)
  • Rachel Swarns Metro columnist, The New York Times
  • Adam Rothman Associate professor of history, Georgetown University


  • 10:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. On Georgetown University slavery archive, there's a list of slaves sold by Father Thomas Mulledy in 1838. Mulledy was president of the school at the time and money from the sale helped the school pay off debts. It's this past that Georgetown is now confronting as many universities before it have.

  • 10:07:23

    MS. DIANE REHMHere to discuss slavery at Georgetown and how to reconcile with its history, Adam Rothman of Georgetown University, Adam Goodheart of Washington College. From Boston, joining us, Craig Steven Wilder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and from New York, Rachel Swarns of the New York Times. Throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing your calls, comments, questions, 800-433-8850.

  • 10:07:57

    MS. DIANE REHMSend your email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or you can send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.

  • 10:08:09

    MR. ADAM ROTHMANGreat to be here, Diane.

  • 10:08:10

    MR. ADAM GOODHEARTVery nice to be here.

  • 10:08:10

    MS. RACHEL SWARNSThank you.

  • 10:08:11

    MR. CRAIG STEVEN WILDERGood to be here.

  • 10:08:12

    REHMThank you. Adam Rothman, take us back to 1838. What were the circumstances that brought about this sale?

  • 10:08:26

    ROTHMANWell, yeah, let's go back in time a bit. Maryland and Washington, D.C., these were slave societies. The Jesuit order of the Maryland province were slave owners. They managed several plantations in Maryland with almost 300 slaves. But the Maryland province had two problems. The plantations weren't very profitable and Georgetown College was in debt.

  • 10:08:55

    ROTHMANSo after debate and reflection, Thomas Mulledy, who was president of Georgetown, orchestrated a sale of 272 men, women and children to two purchasers in Louisiana. The purchase price was $115,000, about $3 million in today's money. And some of that money -- that money was meant to be paid over a period of years. Some of that money went to pay off Georgetown's debts and other purposes.

  • 10:09:26

    ROTHMANBut those men, women and children were divided into lots. They were boarded on vessels in Alexandria and shipped off to Louisiana.

  • 10:09:38

    REHMAnd what do we know about them? What kinds of work did they do? Were families kept together or where they separated?

  • 10:09:52

    ROTHMANThe slaves did all sorts of work on these plantations and at Georgetown College. They grew tobacco. They were artisans, carpenters. They did laundry. They cooked. They were carters and draymen. They did everything. They did everything that needed to be done.

  • 10:10:16

    REHMSo Adam, in effect, what you're saying is that Georgetown University itself owes its existence to these slaves? Is that fair?

  • 10:10:32

    ROTHMANI think that's absolutely fair.

  • 10:10:35

    REHMAll right. Let's turn now to Craig Steven Wilder. I know that there have been other universities who've faced this very same situation. How many are we talking about around the country, Craig?

  • 10:10:53

    WILDEROh, we're talking about dozens and dozens of universities around the country. Many of the colleges established before the Civil War and all of the colleges established before the American Revolution owe their existence to either slavery or the slave trade. And so that includes, you know, the Ivy Leagues. It includes Rutgers and William and Mary. In the colonial period and after the colonial period, after the Revolution, the United States establishes one college every year through the end of the 18th century, despite, in fact, debts and absence of money.

  • 10:11:26

    WILDERWe managed to establish colleges and universities, 17, in that period right after the Revolution ends. And those are all institutions that are established largely with slave wealth.

  • 10:11:37

    REHMSo you're talking about Harvard. You're talking about Brown. You're talking about...

  • 10:11:46

    WILDERColumbia, the University of Pennsylvania...

  • 10:11:48

    REHMUniversity of Virginia as well.

  • 10:11:48

    WILDER...what's now Rutgers, the University of Virginia, yeah. And after the war, you know, it's Williams College in Massachusetts and Georgetown, you know, the rise and the spread of Catholic education in the United States occurs during that period. And all of it is largely funded with slave wealth.

  • 10:12:07

    REHMAnd turning to you, Rachel Swarns, your piece is truly heart-wrenching about the manner in which so many families were torn apart. Can you talk about that?

  • 10:12:24

    SWARNSYes. What's interesting about this history is that it's surprising to many of us readers that, you know, the Jesuits owned slaves, but that history actually has been quite well documented. But what Adam Rothman at Georgetown and Richard Cellini, an alum, were trying to do is see what happened to the people who were sold to help save Georgetown. And if you can imagine entire communities being uprooted, sent on a number of ships to places that they had no connection to, Louisiana is where they ended up, it was devastating to these people.

  • 10:13:11

    SWARNSAnd actually, we benefit -- historians and journalists benefit enormously from the Jesuits fine recordkeeping because there are first person accounts, letters from priest who were present on the plantation when the slaves were sent off. And what's really interesting in terms of the historical research that's being done now is finding out what happened to these people in Louisiana. They were sent to three plantations, mostly ended up working in sugar cane, which was very, very difficult.

  • 10:13:51

    SWARNSThe mortality rates are quite high. Families were separated, but some family groups stayed intact. And what interested me was trying to kind of follow the lines of, you know, what happened to those people over time. And that's...

  • 10:14:06

    REHMAnd how easy was that to do, Rachel?

  • 10:14:13

    SWARNSWell, it's not easy at all. It's really difficult. And Adam Rothman and Richard Cellini, who hired a bunch of genealogists, they're all at work looking at this. It's not easy because the records for African-Americans before the Civil War are, you know, fleeting. They're not recorded in the census. They were barred from learning to read and write so there are not letters and journals or at least certainly none that I've come across yet.

  • 10:14:49

    SWARNSSo what the researchers are doing is very painstaking and very difficult work. We benefit now, you know, in 2016 from the digitization of a lot of records, but a lot of these specific records are really in, you know, the local courthouses in Louisiana.

  • 10:15:08

    REHMAnd Craig, we've known about this for a while, but why is it coming to the fore now?

  • 10:15:18

    WILDERI think there are probably multiple explanations for that. One is actually that, you know, there's a new attention being paid to the relationship between the history of slavery and the history of capitalism. There's a new activism on our campuses, which has lead to -- student activism, in particular, which has lead to a confrontation, finally, with the way in which campuses, both in their architecture and the visual cultures, actually enshrine the histories of slavery, the slave trade, Indian removal and Indian massacres, actually, you know, genocides.

  • 10:15:53

    WILDERAnd so I think for all of those reasons, we're starting to confront both the history and the legacy of it, but also the politics of this issue.

  • 10:16:01

    REHMAnd to you, Adam Goodheart, I must say up front, I do have an honorary doctorate from Washington College. You have your own experience there with ties to slavery. Talk about that.

  • 10:16:21

    GOODHEARTYes, Diane. Washington College, which is very proud to have you as one of our alumni...

  • 10:16:25

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:16:25

    GOODHEART...is one of those institutions that Craig Wilder just spoke of, which was founded just after the Revolutionary War in 1782, just after the victory at Yorktown, and really derived a lot of its initial founding endowments from the profits of slavery. We're in what was a large slaveholding region, the eastern shore of Maryland, and a great many of our original donors, starting, actually, with George Washington, who was one of our largest original benefactors, were slave owners and derived their wealth from those slaveholdings.

  • 10:17:01

    GOODHEARTWe're an institution that, unlike Georgetown and unlike some of the larger universities, hasn't fully reckoned yet with our history, but it's something that we're beginning to do and something I feel is extremely important. It's also something that I'm especially interested in because I work in a building with connections to terrible stories about slavery that we discovered over the past decade or so and that we're trying to figure out what to do about that, this place where I work on a daily basis.

  • 10:17:31

    REHMHow did you discover those stories?

  • 10:17:35

    GOODHEARTWell, I'm the director of something called The Center For The Study Of The American Experience at Washington College and so we're specifically about making connections between the past and the present. And as a historian I write a lot about slavery. We're based in a building that -- I can tell you about this more in a moment.

  • 10:17:51

    REHMAll right. Adam Goodheart, he's at Washington College. We'll take a short break here. Your calls, your comments when we come back. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about slavery as part of the history of so many of U.S. universities. Today we are looking at what happened at Georgetown University as well as others around the country, including Brown, Columbia, Harvard, the University of Virginia. There are many, many documents regarding these sales of slaves, many of which are on our website. You can go to drshow.org and see many of them. And as we were talking just before the break, Adam Goodheart, you were talking about the building in which you do your work.

  • 10:21:01

    GOODHEARTYes, I direct an institute that's based in a very beautiful 1740s colonial building on Chestertown's waterfront and was donated to the college about 20 years ago. And the local histories had always said that this was the home of a very prominent merchant and patriot in the American Revolution named Thomas Ringgold. Well, when my students and I started doing some research, we found out that Thomas Ringgold was a merchant. He was a leader of the revolutionary movement.

  • 10:21:26

    GOODHEARTHe was also one of the largest slave traders in the entire Chesapeake region in the 1750s and '60s. And there are incredibly chilling letters from him about this business of his that make me think of that famous phrase Hannah Arendt and the banality of evil, thinking about human beings in terms of profits, writing about a ship that belonged to him that he brought across the Atlantic in 1761. When it left the coast of West Africa, there were 320 enslaved people aboard. When it reached the Chesapeake, there were only a little over 100 left alive and most of them were very sick. And he complains that they were so sick that he couldn't get very much money for them.

  • 10:22:08


  • 10:22:08

    GOODHEARTThis was a person with just a level of moral blindness and really a mass murderer that's abhorrent. And so then here we are in this building and in this institution and what do we do with that history? It's something that a lot of institutions face.

  • 10:22:22

    REHMAnd a lot of institutions are now asking themselves the very same questions. Adam Rothman, talk about the importance of -- the important role the Jesuits played here.

  • 10:22:39

    ROTHMANWell, certainly the Jesuits are crucial to Georgetown. It was founded as a Jesuit institution. But Georgetown is also part of a broader Jesuit enterprise in North America. So there's a relationship between the Jesuit plantations of Maryland and the Jesuit educational institutions like Georgetown. The plantations basically were intended to help fund the schools. And the Jesuits, you know, they have this kind of ambiguous role in the early republic. The early United States was notoriously anti-Catholic. So Catholics, at least in Maryland, had carved out a place for themselves. And the Jesuits were an important part of that presence.

  • 10:23:23

    ROTHMANAnd I think what's, you know, Jesuits are really responsible for a lot of the spiritual caretaking of the Catholic community in Washington and in Maryland. And that stewardship, in their own minds, applied to both free people and slaves. I think the Jesuits to a certain extent felt like the people that they owned were part of their religious community. So they're -- they -- the slaves appear in baptismal records and burial registers and in sacramental records. That's one of the ways we're able to know about them and track them. You even see sources where the Jesuits refer to slaves as members of their family. There's a kind of paternalistic idea.

  • 10:24:12

    ROTHMANAnd I think, you know, the really difficult thing to get your head around is how people can -- how the Jesuits could baptize their slaves one day and sell them the next. You know, if you understand that kind of paradox, then you've gone a long way to understanding slavery.

  • 10:24:29

    REHMCraig, do you want to add to that?

  • 10:24:33

    WILDERYeah. I think the -- Adam's absolutely right. Part of what the Jesuit plantations did was they sustained a whole network of Catholic institutions in the Colonial Period and in the early United States. And it's for that reason that, you know, the Catholic Church is the first church, the Jesuits are the first to actually build a college west of the Mississippi River, St. Louis University. And they established St. Louis University around 1818. But it's, in part, actually driven by the relationship between the Jesuits and slavery and the willingness to use slavery -- plantation slavery, as it moved westward toward the Mississippi River, to actually advance the interest of the church.

  • 10:25:13

    WILDERAnd so it's not accidental that the Jesuits actually sold the 272 people in 1838 to Louisiana. The Catholic Church had been looking westward after the Louisiana Purchase, which brought into the United States a massive and heavily Catholic region that could be exploited to build the church.

  • 10:25:33

    REHMAnd to you, Rachel, a large portion of your article focused on the descendants of these slaves. Did you have an opportunity to talk with many of them?

  • 10:25:51

    SWARNSYes. This kind of -- the tracking of descendants is, you know, an ongoing process. I was able to speak to a couple and it's really, you know, for them, the fascinating thing is that, as you guys were discussing, the Jesuits, you know, placed a great deal of importance on the faith of the slaves in some ways. And so even though these families were sold by the Jesuits, many of them held on to their religion and held on to their faith across the generations. And so, for descendants, the discovery that the origins of the Catholicism in their families is, you know, quite staggering and upsetting.

  • 10:26:48

    SWARNSAnd, you know, it's quite a lot, you know, to get a phone call from someone and learn that your ancestors were owned by priests and sold to benefit such a prominent institution. On the other hand, since for African Americans it is so incredibly difficult to trace ancestry back before the Civil War, some people are hungry for this information.

  • 10:27:15


  • 10:27:15

    SWARNSWe posted a callout for descendents and we have online, for people who might think that their families are connected to this sale and we've received dozens and dozens of responses from people who really want to know.

  • 10:27:37


  • 10:27:39

    WILDERYeah. And one of the ways you can actually think about this, and particularly Adam Rothman's point about the paradox of, you know, baptizing people one day and then selling them the next, is just looking at the conditions on the Jesuit plantations in the years before the sale. You know, between 1820 and 1838, there are a number of reports, you know, there's an Irish priest who visits on behalf o the Vatican in 1820, Peter Kenney, and he documented awful conditions on the plantations. The supervisors at the plantations were working the enslaved excessively. There was extraordinary violence on the plantations.

  • 10:28:13

    WILDERHe particularly pointed out that the Jesuits were guilty of tying up women who were enslaved and beating them. And I'll quote him, in the priest-owned parlor, which is very indecorous, he was quite ashamed of the way in which people were being beaten. But it actually got, you know, it goes beyond that. He particularly -- he pointed out that the Jesuits were now whipping pregnant women and paying very little attention to the spiritual lives of the enslaved. And so you can actually see the way in which both the economic conditions on the plantations deteriorated in the decades before the sale, but also the ways in which brutality actually increased.

  • 10:28:51

    WILDERAnd going all the way back to the 18th century, there was a serious problem of child mortality on the Jesuit plantations. And that's something that the Jesuits managed to reconcile over time, both spiritually and morally.

  • 10:29:04

    REHMI must say, Adam Rothman, it would seem to me that you must be looking at thousands of documents.

  • 10:29:14

    ROTHMANWe are. The -- just the Maryland province archive alone, which is housed at Georgetown University is, you know, more than 100 boxes of material. And it takes a long time to go through it all. Many of the documents are in fragile condition. Many of the documents are difficult to read. I hope, if your listeners have an opportunity to look at the digital archive, they'll get a sense of what the documents look like and the process of going through them.

  • 10:29:49

    REHMAnd let me just say there, we'll have a link on our own website at drshow.org showing you a few of the documents but then leading you on to the larger trove. You know, having gone through many of these documents -- I'm sure it will take a long time to...

  • 10:30:15


  • 10:30:15

    REHM...go through all of them -- having heard what Craig just said about the treatment by the Jesuits of these slaves, where does that lead you as far as what Georgetown University ought to be doing, either in terms of renaming buildings, taking down statuary? You know, where does that lead you?

  • 10:30:50

    ROTHMANYeah. That's the very question that we're wrestling with right now at Georgetown. And I think that the moment really requires very creative responses to confront and grapple with this history. We are, you know, we are in the middle of a process of renaming a building named after Thomas Mulledy. But if you rename a building, you have to have a better name to replace it with. And that's the question, how do we rename that building in a way that really honors the full story of Georgetown -- of Georgetown's history? I think there's questions about memorialization. It's not about taking down monuments, it's about putting up new kinds of memorials that draw people's attention to this history.

  • 10:31:47

    ROTHMANAnd I think -- well, for my own purposes, I mean, I'm a historian. And what I can do and what I think is very important to do is to tell these stories -- to tell these stories in creative ways that reach people who really want to hear them. And that might mean helping people track their ancestry, identify their genealogy, the very kind of work that Rachel Swarns' article illuminates for us. So you can -- we can think about it as a kind of -- the working group as a kind of truth and reconciliation commission. And the first step in truth and reconciliation is truth. So that is at least -- that is, I think, the least we can do, which is to tell the truth about the history.

  • 10:32:39

    REHMExactly. And Adam Goodheart, you mentioned that even within the building in which you're working, that kind of thinking, consideration, deliberation is going on.

  • 10:32:55

    GOODHEARTAnd I think it's right that at colleges and universities this should be a particular place where these conversations are happening. You know, Diane, colleges and universities, of course, have special connections to history and memory and culture. We're specifically charged with transmitting these things. We're charged with making connections to moral and ethical ways of life. We're charged with fostering debate and being centers of dispute and conversation. And we're also places where history is very often inscribed on the landscape physically, in buildings that are named, in plaques, in monuments.

  • 10:33:34

    GOODHEARTAnd so I think that means that colleges and universities can be sites of discussion, commemoration and reckoning and perhaps reparation, in ways that other places can't.

  • 10:33:46

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have an email from Mike in D.C., who says, we're not hearing much about Georgetown University's plantations. Where were they? What's located where they were? How many generations of enslaved people lived on them? Adam Roth.

  • 10:34:17

    ROTHMANYeah, the plantations were not actually owned by Georgetown. They're part of the Maryland Province, managed by the Jesuit Order. There were several plantations. If you go to the digital archive, we actually have a map of the location of many of them -- St. Inigoes, White Marsh are a couple of the big ones. St. Mary's, in Maryland, is one of the locations. So they're scattered around. But they were established in the 18th century. And by the time the slaves are sold in 1838, what we're talking about is communities of enslaved people that had emerged across generations -- four, five generations of people...

  • 10:35:11


  • 10:35:12

    GOODHEART...in some cases.

  • 10:35:13


  • 10:35:13

    GOODHEARTIt was a -- it was -- it's not just families. It's a network of families that make up a community of people, a community of faith. And they were uprooted and transplanted in to a strange place. And I think that is a powerful story and a heartbreaking story.

  • 10:35:38

    REHMAll right. Let's take a caller in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Michael, you're on the air.

  • 10:35:46

    MICHAELHello, Diane. Thank you very much for taking this call.

  • 10:35:48


  • 10:35:50

    MICHAELMy question, I guess, could be to Professor Rothman and to Professor Wilder about Georgetown's contemporary views toward slavery. Just this past weekend, the university awarded the Patrick Healy Award, one of its most prestigious, and the presentation is made that Patrick Healy was a proud African-American man, the first PhD in America's black origin, the first black president of a major university. And yet, it's well documented that he passed for white, that his father's plantation sale was conducted by his brothers and him. They sold off their -- really their family to finance a life and dowries in Montreal convents for the girls and for lives in the Catholic Church for the boys.

  • 10:36:38

    MICHAELAnd this is just something that I think is -- the past is great and that's important to analyze. But I think we really need to drill into what contemporary lessons can be learned.

  • 10:36:50

    REHMAll right. Briefly, Adam Rothman. And then, after the break, we'll go to Craig.

  • 10:36:58

    ROTHMANYeah, the Healy -- the Patrick Healy story is an amazing and complex one. And I urge people to read about it. But in terms of the contemporary legacies, I think the most important one is to try to search for our own moral blind spots and correct them.

  • 10:37:19

    REHMAdam Rothman, he's associate professor of history at Georgetown University, a member of Georgetown's working group on slavery, memory and reconciliation. Short break. We'll be right back.

  • 10:40:00

    REHMWelcome back, and we'll go to Craig Wilder. You might want to comment on that last caller's statement.

  • 10:40:13

    WILDERYeah, I think that the last caller actually has an interesting point, but I think the point is that the Catholic engagement and Jesuit engagement with slavery didn't end in 1838 with the sale of 272 people into Louisiana. In fact actually what happens is in part the church is selling its slaves in the direction that plantation slavery is moving. It's selling them westward. And out of Maryland comes in fact an army of priests who go on to establish Catholic institutions around the United States.

  • 10:40:45

    WILDERYou know, I'm a graduate of -- undergraduate degree from Fordham University in New York, which is established by John Hughes, Bishop of New York, who got his training in Maryland. And in fact when we think about the Maryland plantations, you know, the Maryland plantations stretched from the northeast border with Pennsylvania down to the southwest boundary with Virginia, but there were also the sites where a lot of the Jesuits got their training in both plantation management and in sort of governing over the enslaved.

  • 10:41:17

    WILDERAnd a way to think about that is, you know, Georgetown's founding president, Robert Plunkett, began his ministry at the Whitemarsh Plantation in Maryland. At least two Georgetown presidents, Leonard Neale and Francis Neale, actually managed Jesuit plantations. They were plantation overseers. And so when we think about 1838, what happens after 1838 is that the Jesuits go on to establish Fordham University in New York, the first Catholic university in New York. They go on to establish Holy Cross in New England, the first Catholic university in New England. And they go on to establish St. Louis and universities throughout the Midwest.

  • 10:41:49

    WILDERAnd those Jesuits, those priests, were actually largely trained in Maryland and many of them on the plantations in Maryland.

  • 10:41:59

    REHMCraig Wilder, as an African-American, how does all this history make you feel about not only your own studies but what it reveals about the way white people and white priests have indeed treated black members of our society?

  • 10:42:26

    WILDERSure. You know, as I said, I went to a Catholic university, but, you know, I was born and raised Catholic. And so this story is in many ways a particularly personal story for me. You know, I've known about Jesuit slaveholdings since I was a teenager, since I entered college. I never knew about the extent of the Jesuit slaveholdings. And what's -- you know, the first -- the emailer actually had an interesting question about, you know, the locations of the plantations and how many there were. We're talking about, you know, some -- more than 14,000 acres of plantation land inside Maryland alone, besides the other lands that were held.

  • 10:43:03

    WILDERAnd so in part, you know, I think as an academic, what really strikes me is that the Georgetown story tells you a lot about the reliance of the people of the United States, American institutions, our educational, cultural, social and philanthropic institutions, on the slave trade and slavery. And so it doesn't change...

  • 10:43:24

    REHMAnd indeed -- I'm sorry.

  • 10:43:25

    WILDERIt changes the way I think about American history and my place in American history.

  • 10:43:31

    REHMHow does that change?

  • 10:43:34

    WILDERWell, I think in part, and I hope, you know, the listeners will also wrestle with this, and everyone who's read Rachel Swarns', you know, article should certainly be wrestling with it, is the centrality of slavery to the American experience, that we can't talk about the United States, we can't talk about our cherished institutions, without also reckoning with the history of slavery and the slave trade.

  • 10:43:57

    REHMAnd Rachel Swarns, as an African-American yourself, how has this story resonated not only with you intellectually but emotionally?

  • 10:44:13

    SWARNSYou know, I think what's powerful to me is just what Craig was saying, these connections. And I think, you know, I'm someone who's been interested in history for a while, and, you know, I think, you know, these things, you know, we often think about slavery as something that's so long ago, so removed from contemporary life. And the truth is that its -- its legacy has so much to do with everyday life. I'm Catholic also and had no idea about this history.

  • 10:45:01

    SWARNSAnd, you know, it's sobering. I think there's no way to describe it except that it's sobering. I hope, though, that, you know, in -- as people learn more about this, this is not something that African-Americans are or should be solely wrestling with this. This is -- this American history.

  • 10:45:29

    REHMOf course.

  • 10:45:29

    SWARNSThis is our history. This is something that I think we had enormous response to this story, and I think part of that was because of how concrete it is. I think we -- again slavery is this big thing long ago, lots of people, kind of unknowable, but it's actually not unknowable.

  • 10:45:59


  • 10:45:59

    SWARNSAnd the historians who do this work know that very well. It's not unknowable. There's a lot of records. These are individuals with names and stories. And I think this particular story resonated in part because it's surprising to a lot of people that Jesuit priests were engaged in this, and Georgetown being Georgetown. But I also think it's just the concrete nature of this.

  • 10:46:25

    REHMOf course.

  • 10:46:27

    SWARNSMore than 200 people, and we know their names, and here's the trip they took, and they have real, living descendants today, and there are institutions today that are wrestling with this.

  • 10:46:37

    REHMAnd I know that that New York Times has put out a call to hear from people who think they may be descendants. What kind of response have you gotten thus far?

  • 10:46:48

    SWARNSYou know, we actually asked for people who think they might be related to the slaves, but we also asked for people who think they might be related to the priests, too. It's important to remember that in our -- in American society today, we have descendants of slaves and slave owners, as well as people, you know, immigrants who didn't have direct ties. Many people have links to this. So we've gotten dozens of responses. Again, it's difficult to -- you know, it'll take some time to figure out, you know, whether the ties are actually real. But there has been an extraordinary amount of interest in this.

  • 10:47:32

    REHMAll right, and let's go to Greensboro, North Carolina. Kim, you're on the air.

  • 10:47:39

    KIMGood morning, thank you for taking my question.

  • 10:47:44


  • 10:47:46

    KIMI wonder if either of your guests can speak a little more of the history just prior to the formalization of slavery and the slave system and particularly the Jesuits' encounter with the Native Americans, their attempts to have them work as indentured servants, as well as their relationship with the African-Americans who were indentured servants and the white Europeans who came over as indentured servants. And if I may add a question to follow up to your previous question, Diane, could you direct the same question to your presumably white guests as to how they feel about this new revelation of history that you directed to your two African-American guests?

  • 10:48:31

    REHMIndeed. Thank you so much. Craig Wilder?

  • 10:48:37

    WILDERSure, on the early history, I think, you know, in 1637 the Jesuits begin sort of accumulating land in Maryland. The Calverts actually give them the St. Inigoes Plantation, which is one of their -- which is their oldest plantation. And it was about 2,000 acres. And part of the reason why the Jesuits are actually acquiring so much land, in 1640 and 1670, they take on additional holdings.

  • 10:49:04

    WILDERBy the end, you know, they've got St. Inigoes and Newton in St. Mary's County, St. Thomas in Charles, Whitemarsh in Prince George County and Bohemia in Cecil County. They also have thousands of acres in Pennsylvania and some small parcels in other places. And part of the reason that they're actually collecting all that land is the Jesuits, as early as 1640, had hoped to actually establish a college, and the purpose of the college was to evangelize Native Americans.

  • 10:49:28

    WILDERAnd so much like Harvard in 1636 and then shortly after begins, you know, the first brick building on Harvard's campus is the Indian College, the goal was to evangelize native people. And what happens to it, what happens to that sort of plan is that it's interrupted by the anti-Catholic uprising that comes with the English civil wars in the 1640s. And so the Jesuits actually go on the defensive. But the goal very early on is actually to evangelize native people.

  • 10:49:59

    WILDERAnd the reason you're holding that land is you're using slavery to actually fund the missions. And so in much the same way that all of the colonial colleges turn to slavery and the slave trade to fund their education missions. The educational mission of the Jesuits was to be underwritten by human slavery.

  • 10:50:17

    REHMAdam Rothman, to our caller's second point, how do you as a Caucasian man, how do you, Adam Goodheart, how does each of you feel both intellectually and emotionally about these revelations, starting with you, Adam Rothman.

  • 10:50:43

    ROTHMANWell, I guess I feel a certain amount of anger, regret and disappointment in Georgetown and the Jesuit community as an institution in the 19th century. I feel tremendous admiration for the way the Jesuits in the 20th century have wrestled with their own history and fought for -- fought for justice. And I think that's an important story, as well.

  • 10:51:18

    ROTHMANBut back to the question of slavery and this particular story, I -- I feel tremendous admiration for the slaves who were sold to Louisiana, who endured that experience, who -- some of whom ran away to try to avoid being sold. I feel admiration for the ones who -- and respect for the ones who endured. You can find some of them in the 1870 census. They survived slavery, they saw emancipation. Some of them might have fought for the Union Army to destroy slavery.

  • 10:52:07

    ROTHMANSo my feelings of, you know, regret and disappointment and anger are actually, I think -- I shift, I shift to admiration.

  • 10:52:24


  • 10:52:24

    ROTHMANAnd I find the stories of the slaves inspiring.

  • 10:52:26

    REHMAdam Goodheart?

  • 10:52:28

    GOODHEARTI feel very strongly both emotionally and intellectually that this moral burden of slavery and its effects is something that we all inherit as Americans, no matter what our immediate heritage is but especially white Americans because, you know, some people like to say, well, my ancestors weren't slaveholders, so what does it have to do with me. Well, my earliest recorded ancestor to come to America stepped off the boat the very month that the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was ratified, in December 1865, coming from Poland.

  • 10:53:03

    GOODHEARTOf course he wasn't a slaveholder here, but the minute he stepped off that boat he benefitted from white privilege, and his descendants, my family, have benefitted from white privilege ever since in ways that directly result from slavery. And we inherit that difficult history at the same time we inherit so much proud history and rights and privileges as Americans.

  • 10:53:25

    REHMYou're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And to Ethan in Silver Spring, Maryland, you're on the air.

  • 10:53:37

    ETHANHello, everyone. I can appreciate this conversation as an African-American. I feel torn. I'm angry, I'm upset, I'm enlightened, I'm a whole bunch of things right now because throughout my upbringing, you know, it's almost like we're made -- I'm an African-American male -- we're made to just say forget about slavery, it happened in the past, X, Y and Z. And as African-American male, we know, and we've been taught by our parents, our grandparents, you know, anyone with gray hair understands Jim Crow South and the effects that slavery has happened.

  • 10:54:11

    ETHANBut my question, you know, and everyone talks about reparations and what it should be, but what all that -- those are great conversations as well, what's next? I mean, we have this information. We all knew slavery existed. We all knew the government and many businesses and organizations have benefitted from the backs of slaves. But what's next.

  • 10:54:30

    REHMAll right, Craig Wilder?

  • 10:54:32

    WILDERWell, first I -- let me just say, actually, you know, while we have information, we don't actually have all the information. As, you know, Rachel Swarns' piece points out, there's a lot we don't know about the story of slavery, and people who were enslaved, the people who were enslaved at Georgetown and owned by the Jesuits deserve, in fact, the dignity of actually being known, of having their stories told. And in fact, that act, that process of actually revealing them and talking about their lives and reminding us that these are three-dimensional human beings who we need to appreciate as persons and as individuals, is part of the hard work of actually telling the full story of slavery and the history of the United States.

  • 10:55:09

    WILDERAnd that story is much bigger than Georgetown, it's much bigger than Maryland, and so my -- I don't want to jump to the what's next part because, as Adam said, you know, there's truth in reconciliation. The first part is the truth-telling, and Americans like to jump to the reconciliation. They like to skip over the truth part because it's difficult, and it's painful. But there's a purpose, there's a need to that painful, difficult journey.

  • 10:55:33

    REHMAdam Rothman, do you feel the same way?

  • 10:55:37

    ROTHMANYes, I think we need to keep telling the truth. We need to tell it in new ways with new stories and reach broader audiences with this history. So I think that in and of itself is really quite important. But I do appreciate the idea that something must follow, yeah.

  • 10:55:57

    REHMWhat do you think Georgetown University itself may be thinking about doing?

  • 10:56:07

    ROTHMANI can't speak to the institutional brain. I can tell you what, you know, I'd like to see some, you know, some concrete steps. I'd like to see some really interesting memorials on campus that commemorate this history. I'd like to see this history infused across our curriculum in ways, not just in history classes but in philosophy, economics, performing arts, you know, all sorts of different domains and knowledge can engage with this.

  • 10:56:36

    ROTHMANAnd I'd like to see more outreach to the descendants of the people that -- that were sold by Georgetown or were slaves of the Maryland Jesuits.

  • 10:56:47

    REHMDo you have any idea that Georgetown may be I the process of doing just that?

  • 10:56:55

    ROTHMANI hope so.

  • 10:56:59

    REHMAll right, we'll leave it at that. Adam Rothman of Georgetown University, Adam Goodheart of Washington College, Craig Steven Wilder of MIT, Rachel Swarns, she's at the New York Times. Thank you all so very much.

  • 10:57:21

    GOODHEARTThank you, Diane.

  • 10:57:22

    WILDERThank you.

  • 10:57:23

    ROTHMANThank you.

  • 10:57:25

    REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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