You are here

History Q & A

A PDF version of this Q & A is available here.

What We Know

 Legacies of Thomas F. Mulledy, S.J., Founding President of the College of the Holy Cross

and Fr. James Healy, S.J., first Valedictorian of the College of the Holy Cross

 Q: Did the Jesuits in the United States ever own slaves?

A: Yes. Penal laws and anti-Catholic sentiment in Great Britain and its colonies restricted Jesuit activities. Land grants in the Maryland colony provided a source of income for Jesuit activities at that time. Farms were formed out of these land grants, first worked by indentured servants and then by enslaved Africans. Slaves started working the Jesuit plantations in Maryland around 1700. Lay friends held the property “in trust” for the Jesuits because Church law prohibited Jesuits from owning property and British penal laws put Catholics ownership rights, especially of priests, in jeopardy. By Papal decree, the Jesuit Order was abolished worldwide in 1773 and was not reestablished in the United States until 1805. In the interim, developments in civil law following the U.S. independence allowed the plantations’ trustees to consolidate the property into a single corporation, chartered in Maryland in 1793. Georgetown College was part of this corporation. After 1805, Jesuits gradually came to control the corporation as members of its board.

Q: Who was Fr. Thomas Mulledy, S.J.?

A: Born in 1794 in western Virginia, Mulledy was a Jesuit priest who served leadership positions within the Society of Jesus in the United States and at both Georgetown College and the College of the Holy Cross. He died in 1860.

Q: What was Fr. Mulledy’s connection to Georgetown College?

A: He was a student at Georgetown before entering the Jesuits in 1815. In 1820, he was sent to Rome for further education. He returned to Georgetown in 1828 to serve as Prefect of Studies. He was named Rector of the Jesuit Community the following year. In 1837, he was named Provincial Superior of the Maryland Province (the de facto leader of the Jesuits in the United States), succeeding Fr. William McSherry, who succeed him as Rector at Georgetown. Mulledy would again assume leadership of Georgetown in the 1840’s.

Q: Why were the slaves sold in 1838?

A: During the 1830’s McSherry and Mulledy judged the operation of the plantations with slave labor to be an inefficient way to fund the Jesuits’ activities. (Georgetown College was the most expensive Jesuit project during that period.)

Q: How did the sales transpire?

A: In the mid 1830’s, While McSherry was Provincial and Mulledy Rector, McSherry authorized several sales of enslaved people in small numbers. Approximately $16,000 (adjusted for inflation: approximately $400,000 in 2016 dollars) from these sales went into Georgetown’s operating budget. In 1838, after McSherry and Mulledy switched offices, Mulledy directed the sale of the remaining slaves, most of whom were sold to Henry Johnson and his associate Jesse Battey. Mr. Johnson had been a former governor and senator from Louisiana. At the time of the sale, he was a U.S. congressman.

Q: How much revenue did this sale generate?

A: The agreed upon price was $115,000. $17,000 (adjusted for inflation: approximately $500,000 in 2016 dollars) of a $25,000 down payment was used to pay down Georgetown’s building debt that had accrued under Mulledy’s leadership of the college. On account of Mr. Johnson’s own financial difficulties, the Jesuits appear never to have received the full $115,000.

Q: What were some of the terms of the sale?

A: Jesuits were divided over what to do with the plantations. Officials in Rome had favored the freeing of the slaves. Mulledy argued that manumission was neither feasible nor financially responsible. Rome put conditions on the sale of the slaves: that families not be separated, that the money not be used to pay off debt or go to operating expenses, and that provisions be made for the religious practice of the slaves. None of these conditions were met.

Q: What was the Jesuit reaction to this situation?

A: Not all Jesuits supported Mulledy. Some denounced how he sold the slaves and the fact that he chose not to emancipate them. And some of the slaves, aided by sympathetic Jesuits, escaped as the sale and transfer were underway. Some Jesuits wrote to the Superior General in Rome, Fr. Jan Roothaan, about this “tragic and disgraceful” scandal. Due to this public scandal, Mulledy resigned as Maryland Provincial and travelled to Rome to plead his case directly to Roothaan. Given the circumstances, Roothaan judged it best to keep Mulledy in Europe and eventually assigned him to work in France.

Q: What was Fr. Mulledy’s connection to Holy Cross?

A: In 1842, after talk of the controversy subsided, the Maryland Jesuits petitioned Rome to send Mulledy back to them. Bishop Benedict Fenwick, Bishop of Boston, asked Mulledy (in part due to his experience as an educational administrator) to head the new college he was establishing in Worcester. Mulledy made his first visit to Worcester in March of 1843. The cornerstone for the College of the Holy Cross was laid in June of 1843. Mulledy served as its first President from 1843 to 1845 before returning to Georgetown. He returned to Holy Cross and served as Prefect of Studies from 1854 to 1857.

Q: Did Holy Cross benefit from the sales of the enslaved peoples in 1838?

A: Not directly. The College was not founded until 1843. However, the Jesuits who ran Holy Cross were Georgetown and Maryland Jesuits, and they had benefitted from the sale.

Q: Did Holy Cross College ever own or sell enslaved peoples?

A: No.

 Q: Who were James A. & Patrick F. Healy?

A: Born in 1830, James Healy was the oldest of nine children born to a white Irish immigrant and Georgia farmer, Michael Morris Healy, and his common-law wife, Eliza Clark, a mixed-race slave. He studied for the priesthood, though not as a Jesuit, and was later named the second bishop for the Diocese of Portland, Maine. He died in 1900. Born in 1834, Patrick was a younger brother to James Healy. He became a Jesuit priest and later became President of Georgetown College.

Q: How were the Healy brothers connected to Holy Cross?

A: James Healy was an alumnus of Holy Cross and its first valedictorian in 1849. Healy Residence Hall, one of the “hill dorms” along Easy Street, is named for him. Patrick Healy was a member of the Class of 1850. He thereafter joined the Jesuits. The Healy brothers were sent north to study at Holy Cross partly because their father was worried about them being enslaved had they stayed in the South. During their time in the north, both brothers passed unofficially as white and not of mixed racial heritage.

Q: Did the Healy Family of Georgia own slaves?

A: Yes. Legally slaves themselves, the children of Michael Healy inherited his slaves.

Q: Did Holy Cross benefit from the sale of enslaved peoples owned by the Healy Family?

A: Yes. In July of 1852, a fire seriously damaged Fenwick Hall. Fundraising efforts to rebuild the damaged structure languished until 1854 when Patrick Healy, then a Jesuit scholastic unable by his vow of poverty to accept the inheritance that had been set aside for him, directed that his share of the inheritance from the sale of his family’s estate, $2,300, be donated to the College for the sake of rebuilding Fenwick Hall, named after the Bishop of Boston who had invited Mulledy to serve as the College’s first President.

Q: When did Mulledy Hall and Healy Hall open?

A: Healy Hall opened in 1962; Mulledy Hall opened in 1966. Both halls were principally funded by the issuance of federal loans.  Several members of the College's faculty suggested the name Mulledy Hall for the building.

[The information provided in this Q & A sheet has been gathered from multiple sources, including published notes of the Georgetown University Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation (used with permission) and the various writings of Fr. Anthony Kuzniewski, SJ, Historian, College of the Holy Cross (used with permission).]