The Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province is collaborating with Saint Louis University and other Jesuit institutions to conduct this important research into Jesuit slaveholding in the former Missouri and New Orleans Missions.
David Miros, Ph.D., director of the Jesuit Archives & Research Center, and Jonathan Smith, Ph.D., vice president for diversity and community engagement at Saint Louis University, serve as co-directors of the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project. Kelly Schmidt, a Ph.D. candidate at Loyola University Chicago, is lead researcher.
Beginning in the fall of 2016, the research has progressed with two distinct but complementary emphases. The first was a study of the number and names of the enslaved, the second a report of the experience of the enslaved people, their treatment and conditions.
The team focused their initial research on the collections at the Jesuit Archives, the Saint Louis University Archives, the Archdiocese of St. Louis Archives, as well as sacramental records at St. Louis parishes available through the Archdiocese of St. Louis Archives.
A second stage of the research focused on tracing genealogies. This work began in late 2017. Researchers are using sacramental records, census reports and property tax records, among other official documents and online resources. The going is slow, as early census surveys were not as scrupulous as today’s, at times resulting in inaccurate dates and inconsistent spellings.
As its name suggests, the USA Central and Southern Province comprises southern states as well as Missouri, including Alabama and Louisiana, where Jesuits also owned, rented or borrowed enslaved laborers. Only limited research has been done on Jesuit participation in slavery in that region of the country, hampered by a lack of extant records. The research team will revisit Jesuit records from the South as the research continues to progress.
The photo at the top left shows the bill of sale for "Big Peter." The Jesuits purchased Peter (known around the farm as “Big Peter” because he was the elder of two Peters) from Louis Barada in St. Charles in 1832. While he was enslaved at Florissant, Peter married and had three children. However, in 1849, the Jesuits sold Peter away from his family to the Jesuits in Bardstown, Kentucky. A few weeks later, the Jesuits at Bardstown sold Peter away. We do not know if he ever saw his family again.