Fr. Roothaan, S.J. lays out the conditions for the sale of enslaved persons, 27 December 1836

Dublin Core


Fr. Roothaan, S.J. lays out the conditions for the sale of enslaved persons, 27 December 1836


Slave Sale; Slave trade; Jesuits--History-- 19th century


In this letter, Fr. Jan Philip Roothaan, the superior general of the Society of Jesus, approves of the sale of the people enslaved by the Maryland Province but stipulates several conditions that must be met, including assuring that people sold could practice Catholicism and that families would be kept together.

The original document is in Latin and was transcribed and translated for the Georgetown Slavery Archive by faculty and students in the Classics Department at Georgetown University.


Maryland Province Archives


Georgetown Slavery Archive




Faculty and students in the Classics Department at Georgetown, including; Josiah Osgood, Sandro La Barbera, Claire Healy, Allegra Hahn, Will Schedl, Josh Myers and Danny O'Sullivan. Also Richard Cellini, Adam Rothman.


Maryland Province, Society of Jesus









Text Item Type Metadata



Reverend in Christ Provincial Father

Pax Christi                                                  Rome, 27 December 1836

I have received the long-awaited letter from Your Reverence on the 30th day of August.  I am sorry about the pain of Your Reverence; but, my Father, those things which Your Reverence is saying blocked him from writing more swiftly, they seem to me such that they ought to have driven (him) to respond as quickly as possible.  For if reports of things falsely grasped affect me with grief, it is the duty of Your Reverence not to be made anxious about these things and to stay silent, but as quickly as possible to free me from anguish with the exposition of the truth – and to free himself.  Or does Your Reverence think that he won’t be trusted, if he should tell something to me.  Does Your Reverence think that Father McSherry is so little known to the Father General?!

About profits granted to Father Quickenborne, I give the greatest thanks.

About the dismissal of Jo(hannes) Cotter, also. If only others too, suffering from this same vice, especially if they are Fathers, were cut from our body! The health of the body would be improved. I know well that, not everything is able to happen all at once - however, it must be foreseen, what is able to be done, and this must be done, inasmuch as it is possible, so that whoever does harm at least might do less harm.

I also rejoice greatly, that relations with the monastery have been put in order.

The other explanations of Your Reverence are good, and I am only sorry that they were so long delayed, and that they were written with such bitterness. No, my Father, Your Reverence should not respond to those things which are false, as if they were true. This would be absurd! On the contrary, he ought to respond: those things are false. And the more swiftly this is done, the better, and I will rejoice, and I will give thanks to Your Reverence and myself. Silence can do nothing except strengthen a misunderstanding, in which I find myself because of the false reports.  

We will discuss the lands at another time.

About the slaves negroes, already Father Vespre who set out the matter clearly for us, has written back to Your Reverence that we are persuaded, that they can be sold and should be sold, whenever the opportunity should present itself; I confirm this and I entrust this whole business to Your Reverence, on the following conditions.

1.     In order to satisfy the gravest debt of conscience, every care should be taken that they be sold in such a way that they have free exercise of the catholic religion, and they have the opportunity for exercising it.  And so

1.     They must not be sold except to planters, lest by chance the person who buys them from ours, afterwards may carelessly separate the slaves he has purchased and sell them to others.

2.     It must be stipulated in selling that the benefit of exercising religion be given to the negroes, and the assistance of a priest.

3.     Husbands and wives, parents and children, in no way must be separated, nor, I should say, parents from the children, as much as is possible.

4.     If any slave male or female of ours, should have a wife or husband in somebody else’s possession, they ought to be joined together with all effort, otherwise they absolutely should not be sold with the intention of taking them to a far away region.

About these things, the conscience of Your Reverence is burdened, which I affirm, but not because I have doubts on the concern of Your Reverence in this matter, but so that I may satisfy my own conscience.

        It also will be in keeping with charity and justice, to provide carefully for those negroes, who on account of burdensome age or incurable illnesses, cannot be sold and transferred elsewhere.

2.  The money, which will be raised from this sale, absolutely must not be spent on making expenditures, nor in paying off debts, but it is capital which ought to be invested so that it may grow.  The best way perhaps would be “groundrent,” especially in the states of Pennsylvania and New York – but about this a plan must be initiated with upright and careful men, knowledgable in things of this kind, our own people, outsiders too.

Finally, about everything else which will be done in this business, may Your Reverence inform us, since the survival of this Province depends to a large degree on this being done well, clearly for the benefit of the Novitiate and the school. Consider therefore what is to be done, and deliberate, and pray, so that it may turn out for the good of the Province and the glory of God.

May God bless Your Reverence in all things, and pour new strength on him in the new year. I truly hope Your Reverence has recovered from his indisposition. Finally I recommend again and again that he write, write, write with more care and that he remember me in His Most Holy Sacrifices. I am sincerely

To Your Reverence

A Slave in Christ

Ioannes Roothaan

To Father McSherry, Provincial in the Society of Jesus


Rev(eren)de in C(hris)to Pater Prov(incia)lis

P(ax) C(hristi)                                                Romae 27 (decem)bris 1836

Accepi tamdiu desideratas literas a R(everenti)a V(estr)a die 30 Aug(usti). Doleo de R(everenti)ae V(estr)ae dolore; sed, mi Pater, ea quae R(everenti)a V(estr)a dicit, sibi fuisse impedimento quominus scriberet promptius, ea mihi talia videntur, ut ad respondendum quantocius impellere debuissent. Nam si me relationes rerum falso apprehensarum dolore afficiunt, R(everenti)ae V(estr)ae est, non de his angi et tacere, sed quamprimum rerum veritate exposita me angustia liberare, et se etiam.  An putat R(everenti)a V(estr)a se, siquid mihi affirmet, fidem non inventurum? Tam parum existimat P(atre)m McSherry notum esse P(at)ri Gen(era)li?!

De f(ructi)bus concessis P(at)ri Quickenborne gratias ago maximas.

De dimisso Io(hanne) Cotter, etiam.  Utinam et alii, eodem vitio laborantes, praesertim si qui sunt patres, a corpore nostro rescinderentur!  Melior foret valetudo corporis. Intelligo bene, non omnia simul et semel fieri posse – tamen, prospiciendum, quid fieri possit, et faciendum, quantum fieri potest, ut qui nocent saltem minus noceant.

Gaudeo etiam plurimum, quod relationes cum monasterio sint ordinatae.

Ceterae explicationes R(everenti)ae V(estr)ae bonae sunt, et solum doleo, quod tamdiu retardatae, et quod cum quadam amaritudine scriptae.  Non, mi pater, non debet R(everenti)a V(estr)a respondere ad ea quae falsa sunt, ac si vera essent.  Hoc esset absurdum!  Immo debet respondere: ista falsa sunt.  Et hoc quo citius, eo melius, et ego gaudebo, et gratulabor R(everenti)ae V(estr)ae et mihi.  Silentium non potest nisi confirmare errorem, in quo ex falsis relationibus versari me contigat. 

De terris agemus alias.

De servis nigris, iam P(ater) Vespre qui nobis rem clare exposuit, rescripsit ad R(everentia)m V(estra)m nobis persuasum esse, ut vendi possint et vendantur, ubi opportunitas sese offerat; id ego confirmo, et R(everenti)ae V(estrae) negotium hoc totum committo, sequentibus condicionibus.

  1. ut conscientiae debito gravissimo satisfiat, omnis cura adhibenda, ut ita vendantur, ut religionis catholicae exercitium liberum illis sit, eiusque exercendae opportunitatem habeant.  Itaque
    1. non vendantur nisi proprietariis fundorum, ne forte qui a nostris emit, postea emptos separet indistincte et aliis vendat.
    2. in venditione stipulandum, ut detur nigris commodum exercendae religionis, et assistentia sacerdotis.
    3. mariti et uxores, parentes et filii, nullo modo separandi, im(m)o nec parentes a filiis, quantum fieri potest.
    4. si quis servus vel serva nostrorum, uxorem vel maritum habeat in aliena possessione, hi omni cura coniungendi, alioqui nullomodo vendantur in regionem longinquam asportandi.

Circa ista oneratur conscientia R(everenti)ae V(estr)ae quod dico, non quod de R(everenti)ae V(estr)ae in hac ipsa re sollicitudine dubitem, sed ut ego meae conscientiae satisfaciam.

Erit etiam charitatis et iustitiae, providere convenienter iis nigris, qui ob gravem aetatem vel ob morbos incurabiles, vendi et alio transferri non possint

  1. Pecunia, quae ex ista venditione proveniet, nullomodo expendenda est in sumptus faciendos, neque in debitorum exstinctionem, sed est capitale, quod investiri debet ut fructificet. Optimus modus esset fortasse groundrent, in statibus praesertim Pensylvaniae et New York – sed de hoc consilium ineundum cum viris probis et prudentibus rerumque huiusmodi peritis, tum nostris, tum externis.

De omnibus denique quae in hoc negotio agentur, R(everenti)a V(estr)a nos certiores faciat, cum ex eo bene confecto magna ex parte pendeat subsistentia istius Provinciae, pro Novitiatu scilicet et scholasticatu. Considerato ergo agendum, et consultantum, et orandum, ut cedat ad Prov(inci)ae bonum et Dei gloriam.

            Deus R(everenti)ae V(estr)ae benedicat in omnibus, novumque vigorem in novum annum infundat. Spero sane R(everentia)m V(estra)m ex infirmitate convaluisse. Denique ut diligentius scribat, scribat, scribat, iterum iterumque commendo, et in S(anctissimi)S S(ui)S S(acrificii)S mei memoriam habeat.  Sum ex animo

                                                R(everenti)ae V(estr)ae

                                                                                                Servus in C[hris]to

                                                                                                Ioannes Roothaan

P(atr)i McSherry S(ocietatis) I(esu) Pr(ovincia)li




Original Format




Maryland Province Archives, “Fr. Roothaan, S.J. lays out the conditions for the sale of enslaved persons, 27 December 1836,” Georgetown Slavery Archive, accessed July 14, 2024,