April 1, 2019 - On a clear, cool day in March, a small group of Jesuit colleagues made a somber journey. The group of eight visited several locales in north St. Louis County, outside St. Louis. Their quest: to visit sites of significance to the early Jesuits in St. Louis and to the people enslaved by those Jesuits.
Jesuits in the 19th century depended on the labor of enslaved people to build and maintain their institutions. When a dozen Jesuits traveled from Maryland in 1823 to establish the Missouri Mission, they brought with them six enslaved men and women, three married couples. Over the next 42 years, Jesuits based in Missouri would own, rent or borrow at least 150 people in five states. The majority of the enslaved people were based in the St. Louis area, made to work at St. Stanislaus Seminary, St. Louis College or the College Farm. The North St. Louis County tour visited some of those sites.
Kelly Schmidt, research coordinator for the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation (SHMR) Project, planned the itinerary and acted as tour guide for the group. The Jesuits USA Central and Southern (UCS) Province and Saint Louis University (SLU) co-sponsor the project, and the tour participants included representatives of both institutions, including the project’s co-directors, David Miros, director of the Jesuit Archives & Research Center and Jonathan Smith, SLU’s vice president for diversity and community engagement.
“Jesuit leaders decided that priests assigned as pastor to St. Ferdinand would have an enslaved person to serve them,” Schmidt said.
A short walk away from Old St. Ferdinand is Spanish Land Grant Park. Now a small, two-acre public park, some of the enslaved people who served the priest at St. Ferdinand may have lived here prior to 1836. It is also the site of the original St. Ferdinand cemetery. Both enslaved and free people were buried here, although their graves are not marked.
Spanish Land Grant Park in Florissant, Mo., occupies the site of the former St. Ferdinand Cemetery.
Next came a visit to the “old rock building” constructed in 1840 as a novitiate for the Jesuit mission. The meagre enslaved quarters are now long gone, but the limestone building stands as a testament to the skill and craftsmanship of the Jesuits and the people they enslaved, as well as the suffering endured by the enslaved.
“Records tell the story of enslaved people being forced to cut and haul stones from a quarry several miles away along the Missouri River,” Schmidt said. “Many enslaved people became ill in the process from diseases associated with stagnant water.”
Father Jeffrey Harrison, SJ, one of the researchers on the Slavery, History, Memory & Reconciliation Project, tells the history of the Old Rock Building at the former Jesuit novitiate.
The Jesuits used the building as a novitiate for more than 130 years. It currently serves as the library for Urshan College.
|Etta Daniels (left) and Shelley Morris advocate for Greenwood Cemetery in North St. Louis|
Greenwood Cemetery features a memorial to Harriet Scott, an enslaved woman who sued for her freedom along with her husband, Dred Scott. Mrs. Scott is the most famous person buried at Greenwood, but Etta Daniels, the leader of the Greenwood Cemetery Preservation Association, wants the community to learn about other lesser-known barrier-breakers.
“We know the big names – Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. – but there are so many others we don’t know,” Ms. Daniels said, citing civil rights activists, Buffalo Soldiers, the first Black postal carrier in St. Louis and numerous musicians as examples.
The headstones of a father and two sons, all U.S. Military Veterans, at rest in Greenwood Cemetery in St. Louis
By contrast, Calvary Cemetery has always been well maintained. It contains the graves of several notable Catholic St. Louisans, many with imposing monuments. It also includes the more modest headstone of Dred Scott, who was re-buried there by the owner who gave him his freedom after his lawsuit was unsuccessful.
|Dred Scott's final owner paid to bury him at
Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.
Harriet Scott is buried at Greenwood Cemetery.
Just down the way is a family plot, shared by the families of Charles Tyler and his business partner, Theodore Reeves. Charles and his mother, Matilda Tyler, are among the 12 people buried there. Their graves are unmarked. Both were born into slavery, owned by Jesuits. While enslaved, Matilda, her husband, George (who belonged to a different owner), and their sons performed additional labor to earn extra money, which they used to buy Matilda and her five sons’ freedom.
The visit to Calvary included a stop at the grave of Thomas Franklin (1838-1948). Franklin has a small, flat marker, sandwiched between two large monuments to St. Louis Archbishops John Kain and Peter Kenrick, two of the three St. Louis bishops he served as valet. Franklin was born into slavery and moved to St. Louis after the Civil War and began working for Archbishop Kenrick.
The burial plot where Matilda Tyler and her son Charles are buried. They were born into slavery and purchased their freedom from Jesuits .
The six enslaved people are named on one of the markers, but when the stone was erected in 2003, only their first names were known. Now, thanks to the researchers of the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project, their full names are known: Isaac and Susan (or Susanna, but called Succy) Hawkins (alternatively, Queen), Tom and Mary (usually called Molly or Polly) Brown and Moses and Nancy Queen.
The Queens, Hawkinses and Browns are not buried at Calvary Cemetery. Records show most were buried at St. Ferdinand’s cemetery, in what is now Spanish Land Grant Park.
The people involved with the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project are working to learn about the lives of the people who were enslaved. They are also trying to identify descendants of the Queens, Hawkinses and Browns – and other enslaved people - so that one day it will be descendants who take, or lead, this tour.
Learn more about the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project.