Faith and Family: Reconstructing the Jesuit Enslaved Community in Southern Maryland, 1717–1838

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:30 PM
Columbia 6 (Washington Hilton)
Sharon Leon, Michigan State University
In 1838 Thomas Mulledy, S.J., signed his name to an agreement selling the 272 enslaved persons who resided on Jesuit-owned estates in Southern Maryland to Louisiana. The sale served as the culmination of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus’s fraught experience with slaveholding in the colonial and early national period. While much historical work has been written on Jesuit slaveholding, that writing has primarily focused on the implications for the religious community and the moral universe in which these men made their decisions about slavery. Thus far, however, no scholar has studied on the enslaved people themselves.

This project focuses on the lives and experiences of the enslaved, rather than on their Jesuit owners. Focusing on the enslaved community itself makes this project ideally suited for digital methods. With an eye to the events and relationships that formed the warp and woof of the daily lives of this enslaved community, I will work to identify each individual enslaved person present in the documentary evidence and to situate them within their families and larger community. In processing and representing this archival research, I will employ linked open data and social network analysis to visualize the entire community of enslaved people and their relationships to one another across space and time. This approach will allow me both to focus on the distinct individuality of each enslaved person and to have the capacity to pull back to grasp the community in aggregate, noting trends and changes in their experiences and relationships during their time in Maryland. I plan to focus on the questions of how the Jesuits acquired their slaves, the material conditions of slavery under the Jesuits in comparison with those in Maryland at large, and the execution and aftermath of the mass sale in 1838.

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