|Peter Queen (alternatively, Hawkins) was the first child born to an enslaved couple in the Missouri Mission. Referred to as "Little Peter," he continued to live at St. Stanislaus Seminary even after he was emancipated, until his death around 1907.|
Jesuits used forced labor at St. Stanislaus Novitiate in Florissant, Missouri, at St. Louis College (now Saint Louis University), at St. Joseph’s College in Bardstown, Kentucky, and at missionary outposts in St. Charles and Portage des Sioux, Missouri, and Sugar Creek, Kansas.
When the Jesuits began to operate St. Louis College (now Saint Louis University) in 1829, they transferred several enslaved people from Saint Stanislaus Novitiate to the college in St. Louis. Their work there was similar to that as the novitiate: farming, laundry, wagon-driving.
By 1831, there were at least 26 people held in slavery by the Jesuits; the majority, at least 20, labored on the Jesuits’ farm in Florissant.
The ledger entry from the Missouri Mission reads: "All are to go to work at five o Clock precisely, and none may stop working before the horne Blows, and if these regulations are not observed, there will be taken from their time, one ¼ in the Morning, and half an hour at Dinner. None may make use of a horse for themselves without license except to plough their gardens. None may sow or plant any kind of grain. they may raise vegetables, such as potatoes, turnips, or any other vegetables they want. None may be out of their houses out of hours, that is after 9 o Clock without good reasons and always with leave.”
Many of the enslaved people at St. Joseph's College in Bardstown were lent, donated or rented to the Jesuits. A few people were transferred from Saint Stanislaus Novitiate to St. Joseph’s College. At least one man (known as “Big Peter” and also as Peter Queen, though he was not a member of the Queen family) was forcibly separated from his family in Missouri when he was taken to Kentucky and later sold. Enslaved laborers circulated between Florissant, St. Louis and Bardstown.
Enslaved people were baptized into the Catholic Church and were active members of St. Ferdinand’s Parish in Florissant or, later, St. Francis Xavier Church in downtown St. Louis. But they were not free and were treated like property. Their living conditions, especially in the first 10 years of the mission, were crowded and exposed them to extreme weather conditions. They received physical punishments, including whipping. Jesuits were prohibited by their own policies from whipping their laborers, but at least one priest, Charles Van Quickenborne, was reported to have whipped some of the enslaved people. There is also a recorded incident in which Van Quickenborne sold enslaved people as a form of punishment.
The Jesuits, the local bishop and other religious orders often lent or hired out their enslaved laborers to one another or to other slaveholders, much like they might have lent or borrowed a piece of equipment.
In a telling journal entry, Felix Verreydt, a Jesuit who served as a minister to the enslaved people of St. Stanislaus, wrote, “we heard sometimes their earnest desire to be free in a free country, it was difficult not to say almost impossible to convince them of their happiness.” Father Verreydt may have believed them to be happy, but it’s clear the enslaved people had the same “earnest desire to be free” that all people have by nature. The findings of the past year reveal instances of enslaved laborers escaping their bondage, either by running away or by purchasing their freedom and that of their family members.
Matilda Tyler was an enslaved woman who succeeded in purchasing her own freedom and that of her sons. Her story is available on this site, just one example of the kind of narrative the Jesuits today hope to tell through the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project.
Only limited research has been done so far on Jesuit participation in slavery in the Deep South, hampered by a lack of surviving records. Researchers know that Jesuits used slave labor in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, and possibly in New Orleans. The research team will continue this research.