"What will become of me?": Fr. Havermans reports on the anguish of the slaves, October 20, 1838 and November 12, 1838

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"What will become of me?": Fr. Havermans reports on the anguish of the slaves, October 20, 1838 and November 12, 1838


Slaves--Maryland; Slaves--Family relationships; Slave trade--United States; Slaves--Religious life--United States


In this letter to the Superior General, Fr. Havermans laments the "grim and displeasing" sale of the Jesuits' slaves. In a postscript dated November 12, he reports the anguish expressed by enslaved people at Newtown as they were being gathered for sale to Louisiana. He quotes an unnamed pregnant woman who protested, "“If ever someone should have reason for despair, do I not now have it? I do not know on what day the birth will come, whether on the road or sea. What will become of me? Why do I deserve this?”

This letter is in the Jesuit archives in Rome and is published here with the permission of the Society of Jesus. The original letter is in Latin, and was transcribed and translated by Claire Healy for the Georgetown Slavery Archive, with the generous assistance of Professor Josiah Osgood and Professor Sandro La Barbera from the Department of Classics at Georgetown. It is published here for reference purposes only, and should not be considered an authoritative edition of the letter.

See the attached files for a transcription and translation of the full letter.


Havermans to Roothaan, November 12, 1838, Provincia Maryland 1007, I, 9, Archivum Romanum Societatis Jesu.


Georgetown Slavery Archive




Claire Healy, Josiah Osgood, Sandro La Barbera, Adam Rothman


Society of Jesus









Text Item Type Metadata



...Nevertheless about an especially important thing, about the slaves of course, who all as I was then anticipating, have been sold, I will not now say much. When I consider the affair as now it has been brought to an end and after the fact, I will say only so much, that, inasmuch as I am able to apprehend, they were sold to infidels, living in places of infidelity, at a distance of five thousand English miles. The affair gave many here a reason for speaking badly about us. ‘No one does this but bad people, as they are dealers of Negroes, who care for nothing except money, or also by those who by necessity, e.g. from misfortunate, or of paying contracted debts, are driven toward it. [end of quote?**]. Others [^even Protestants] consider this forbidden. And I also will say that this thing was especially grim and displeasing to me, and still is, even more because the slaves who were under my care conducted themselves well, and, as long as they were beneath me, they were of great use for the Society, and would have been of greater use still, and for the rest [alio modo***], if they did need to be sold, they could have been sold without scandal and clear danger of losing their souls....

...From the residence at Newtown 12th November 1838

When I had already finished this letter, Provincial Father Mulledy arrived with Johnson, the ex-governor of the state of Louisiana, the master to whom our slaves were sold, around evening on the day of Saturday, intending on the following day, the day of our Lord around noon, to put them all on a boat, but since the laws require so many formalities, this luckily was rendered impossible. I ought, as the provincial father was saying to me, to have sent for the prolictor(**), commonly known as Sheriff, who was here for two days***. In which time they had the opportunity to wash their clothes and of preparing themselves a bit for such a long journey. How these sad days passed I am not able to say. The slaves with heroic fortitude were giving themselves to fate and with Christian resignation relinquishing themselves to God. One woman more pious than the others, and at that time pregnant most demanded my compassion. She was coming toward me so that for the last time she could greet me and seek benediction, and she observed as she was genuflecting: “If ever someone should have reason for despair, do I not now have it? I do not know on what day the birth will come, whether on the road or sea. What will become of me? Why do I deserve this?” I was saying “Trust in God.” So it was, she agreed, I offered myself totally to her. All were coming to me seeking rosaries, medals, a cross or something so that they would remember me. And with how much obedience they went to the boat. Only one tried to run away. And the official was not compelled to bind him. This day for a long time here _____***. The encumbered*** slaves remain here so that either their wives or husbands might be bought, or there might be an arrangement concerning them by said Johnson. For I wish that he would not separate them from their partners and children. For this would resound*** louder still*** and greatly hurt the faith...

...Post illud tempus ut maximi momenti hic ____*** locum ____***. de praecipuis tamen, nempè** de mancipiis, quae omnia ut tunc anticipabam, vendita sunt, non multa jam dicam: cum considerem rem ut jam ad finem perductum** et post factum tantum dicam quod, in quantum cognoscere potuerim, vendita fuerint infidelibus, in locis infidelium degentibus, ad distantiam quinque millia miliarium anglicorum. quae res hic multis dedit rationem malè de nobis loquendi. ‘a nemini enim fit nisi a malis hominibus, ut sunt negotiatores nigrorum, qui nihil quam pecuniam inhiant, vel etiam ab iis qui necessitati v. g. ex infortunio, vel debitis contractis solvendis, ad it compelluntur. alii[ ^etiam protestatantes] ut illicitum hoc considerant. Et etiam dicam quod haec res tristissima et ingratissima fuerint, atque adhuc sit, eo*** magis quod mancipia quae sub cura mea erant, sese benè gesserint, et, quamdiù sub me fuerint, etiam Societati magnae erant, et adhuc majoris futura erant utilitatis, et alio modo, si erant vendenda, vendi potuissent sine scandalo, et manifesto periculo perdendi animas suas...

...ex residentia Newtown 12a Novembris - 1838.
cum jam finivi has litteras, advenit Pater Provincialis Mulledy cum Johnson exgubernatore statȗs Louisianae, domino cui mancipia nostra sunt vendita, circa vespram die sabbati, intendebat sequenti die, die dominica circa meridiam, omnia imponere navi, sed cum leges requirunt tot formalitates hoc feliciter reddebatur impossibile. debui ut pater provincialis mihi dicebat, mittere pro lictore. vulgo Sheriff. qui hic fuit duobus diebus. quo tempore habebant ansam lavare suas vestes et sese parum ad iter tam longum praeparandi. quam tristes hi dies fecerint dicere non possum. Ipsa mancipia cum fortitudine heroicâ fato suo se tradebant et cum christianâ resignatione sese Deo relinquebant. una mulier prae caeteris pia, et tunc gravida meam maximâ monebat compassionem. veniebat ad me, ut ultimâ vice me salutaret et benedictionem peteret et observabat cum genuflecteret: Si umquam quis habuerit rationem desperandi, an ego jam non habeo? nescio quâ die partus adveniet, vel an in viâ vel mari. quid de me fiet? unde hoc merui. dicebam confide in Deo. Sic est, annuebat, me totaliter ipsi obtuli. omnia veniebant ad me petantes rosarium numisma crucem vel quid aliud ut mei recordarentur. et cum quanta obedientia ibant ad navem! unus tantum sese abscondebat. et officialis non erat coactus aliquem ligare. iste dies longo tempore hic _____? sequentia mancipia adhuc remanent ut eorum vel uxores vel mariti emantur, vel alio modo de ipsis disponatur, a dicto Johnson. opto enim ut a suis compartibus et filiis eos non sit separaturus. hoc enim ad altius adhuc clamaret et religioni quam maxime noceret...

Original Format




Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, “"What will become of me?": Fr. Havermans reports on the anguish of the slaves, October 20, 1838 and November 12, 1838,” Georgetown Slavery Archive, accessed July 22, 2024, https://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/226.