A "Multiplicity of Deaths": Fr. Mobberly to Fr. Grassi, on a series of deaths that occurred at St. Inigos, 1812.

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A "Multiplicity of Deaths": Fr. Mobberly to Fr. Grassi, on a series of deaths that occurred at St. Inigos, 1812.


Child slaves; Older slaves; Women Slaves; Death--Causes; Catholic Church-Clergy-Correspondence


In this letter from 1812, Fr. Mobberly writes to Fr. Grassi about the mortality rate at St. Inigos and the common illnesses among its inhabitants. It mentions the deaths of five enslaved people: Old Billy, Old Sucky, Old Mathew, Little Sucky, and Betsy, the Blacksmith's wife.

The letter also deals extensively with the Order's plans to buy a property adjacent to St. Inigo's.


Maryland Province Archives


Georgetown Slavery Archive




Elsa Barraza Mendoza


Georgetown University Library









Text Item Type Metadata


Revd. And Dear Father,

            I wrote you the other day respecting the permanent establishment of your good novices and thought I had probably said enough, but upon reflection, I have omitted something important which I ought to have noticed. It will very probably be urged by some, notwithstanding what I said in my last, that St. Inigo’s is an unhealthy spot, and perhaps they’ll produce the multiplicity of deaths as a proof of their assertion.- To show you how far such an argument is worthy your attention, I shall here give you a fair statement of the Deaths and their causes which took place during my stat at St. Inigos.-

            Father Spink and Bro Magan both died with the consumption which was confirmed upon them at the college prior to their going to St. Inigo’s. - John Williams an apprentice to Br Baron was a long time sick at the College- carried the slow fever, of the causes of it, with him to St. Inigo’s and died in a few days after his arrival. – Geo. Williams our overseer died with a sort of galloping consumption attended with some symptoms of the slow fever- He was considered as an unsound man before he went on the farm, with which circumstance I was not acquainted when I engaged him.- Old Billy laboring about three years under a complaint which Physicians called fistula in ano, at length died being about 65 years old. James Ritchie a Scotchman died with old age, being about 83 years old.- Old Sucky died with old age, being 96 years old according to the family record, tho’ she often told me she was more than 100.- Old Mathew also died with old age, being 99 years and 6 months old, tho’ he often said he was much older.- Little Sucky having been troubled with fits 3 or 4 years, at length fell twice into the fire, was most shockingly burnt and died a few days after.- Betsy, the Blacksmith’s wife died in childbed with twins, of which she could not possibly be delivered, tho’ every exertion was made by 2 physicians and a midwife.-

            These 9 deaths are all that happened on the farm in a family of about 55 persons, during the 6 years I lived on it, and I leave it to the judgment of the candid, whether their deaths were occasioned by the climate or not. The most prevalent sickness on that farm is a slight touch of the ague and fever, which never lasts more than a few days. I have always been successful in curing it with an emetic on a purgative even without the bark-  It always originates at the quarters and scarcely ever appears at the house. I never enjoyed such good and regular health as I had at that place. It’s true, I once took that complaint, but my own imprudence brought it on me, and my ignorance and neglect caused it to remain with me for some time.- The Ague and fever on the salts is very different from that on the fresh water. On the salt lands, its duration is short: being mild in its visitation. It seldom injures the constitution and never destroys the appetites.

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On the fresh water it’s duration is from 6 to 12 months.- It is most violent in its effects as it lessens the appetite, diminishes and weakness the flesh and racks the whole constitution. If you wish a proof of this, make a visit to the sugar lands. This place is a large body of rich land situated in Montgomery County on the banks of the Potomack [sic] about 30 miles above Geo. Town. You need not ask the inhabitants what are the effects of the Ague and fever there: Their countenances will tell you. They resemble a corpse- Now, what is the reason of this difference? I conceive it to be this- On the fresh water, you will always see in the spring and fall seasons immense clouds of thick fogs arrive and remain suspended in the air until 10 o’clock and then settle on those rich bottoms, having no enemy to oppose them or prevent their pernicious effects.- On St. Inigo’s farm those fogs may, and indeed, do sometimes arrive, but in one or 2 hours are completely dispersed.- Here the salt air has a free passage all the way from the capes and meeting our farm in its way counteracts the evil effects of those noxious vapors and renders the air salubrious.* If the Irish thicket were cut down, the fresh water springs and branches at the quarters properly cleaned, and the people made to observe cleanliness; I am of the opinion, that the ague and fever would almost entirely disappear.- As to salt water marshes, I cannot think they are commonly the cause of this complaint, as they are almost daily washed and purified by the flood tides. -  Does this sickness never appear at the White Marsh? Are people never sick on that farm? I know there is a fresh water creek- And I know there are marshes, where the dark vapors can rise and settle without opposition.- Do you wish a proof that the salt water ague and fever does not destroy the constitution and that it ruins it on the fresh water? Consider their long lives on St. Inigo’s farm- They generally live so long that you become in some degree tired of them and are tempted to pray to god to take them to himself in order to give room for others.- Not so on the sugar lands.- The inhabitants of that place soon become candidates for another world.--- Should you conclude to purchase a forest farm, you would do well to chuse [sic] one on which there is a mill seat if that be possible. There is a situation of this description about 7 miles above St. Inigo’s.- How valuable the stream may be I cannot tell as I never examined it- One Joseph farmer owns the mill and a small lot of ground around it, but the rest of the land belongs to another man- Some of the land is calculated for meadows as well as I remember, thus’ I never took much notice of the place. The mill is very indifferent and I believe never was important; probably owing to the poverty and bad economy of those who have heretofore possessed it. The situation is very advantageous for the raising of a high Dam, being between 2 very high hills. There certainly would be water enough in the fall, winter and spring seasons to turn a common gristmill and saw mill. This place, I think, would be my choice, as in this case the timbers from St. Inigo’s swamp and the settle-

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ment around it could be saved with advantage. The streams of St. Mary’s, the inferior to those of other counties, might, I think, come into greater notice than they ever were, yet, were the property encouraged by a good purse, good managers and ingenious workmen, St. Mary’s never has encouraged mill wrights, and therefore they have but few mills worth notice. – I hardly suppose you have the means at present to carry such a scheme into full operation, however, you probably may in a few years, and therefore it would be important to secure such a situation.- Should you not sell the Island, (Which I would by no means advise in time of war) The timbers of that place might also be rafted and hauled to your saw mill, tho’, this measure would never be advisable, unless authorized by favorable circumstances. – Thus far, Dear father, I have presumed, supposing you will not implicitly rely on my own opinion, but that you will consult Father Francis respecting these few remarks; and if any thing can be picked out of them that may prove beneficial to our Society, I shall rejoice for having contributed in some degree to the advancing of God’s honor and Glory- Pardon the boldness of a poor unworthy Brother who in all his attempts of this nature wishes you to believe he has ad majoriem in view and begs a share in your holy prayers and sacrifices.

                                                Jos. P. Mobberly

CB. If you could purchase such a situation to be independent of the corporation of the Clergy of Maryland, and to belong to the society exclusively, you would, no doubt, be supported and encouraged in the work, since our Fathers here are disposed to contribute all they can in this way- But they don’t seem to be so well disposed to throw in their mite, when they know their contributions are to fall under the controul of those incorporated gentlemen, some of whom seem always disposed to thwart the views of our Society, to throw difficulties in the way of the Superior and to retard the prospects of the noviceship.- 

PL* The situation I have described above (if the owners be disposed to sell it) might I think be purchased, and from the aid of St. Inigos farm (which could never be refused) in a few years become independent with the exertions of a careful and zealous brother? P. Ursus B. That should the society obtain quiet possession of the property in Maryland, the Superior would certainly be glad to see the farms from time to time- This would be very convenient for him in his visits to the Noviceship (supposing it to be at St. Inigos) in which case that great inconvenience (long distance) would at least be lessened.- Traveling cannot be very difficult, fatiguing and unpleasant to a man that has hotels of his own, placed at proper, convenient distances and a good carriage with suitable horses.

Pro bono Societatis- Pray for me. Your Serv.t in Xt. J. P. Mobberly.



Doctor J. Grassi
President of Geo Town College
District of Columbia


Original Format




Maryland Province Archives, “A "Multiplicity of Deaths": Fr. Mobberly to Fr. Grassi, on a series of deaths that occurred at St. Inigos, 1812.,” Georgetown Slavery Archive, accessed July 14, 2024, http://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/113.