Bishop Neale to Fr. Lucas on the regulations for slave marriages, April 1816

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Bishop Neale to Fr. Lucas on the regulations for slave marriages, April 1816


Slave Marriage; Slaves-Social Conditions; Jesuit Missions-19th c;Catholic Church-Clergy-Correspondence.


In this letter from 1816, Bishop Neale explains the rules governing Catholic marriages between enslaved persons. Priests had to get permission from the slaves' owners and the owners had to promise not to separate husbands and wives.

Fr. Lucas was a French diocesan priest recently appointed by Bishop Neale to the parish of Norfolk, Va.


Maryland Province Archives


Georgetown Slavery Archive




Elsa Barraza Mendoza


Maryland Province Archives, Society of Jesus









Text Item Type Metadata


Revd & Dear Sr                                                Baltre 19. April 1816  Received 27 April-
            I am sorry to hear that those whom you call Trustees continue to give you uneasiness. What you have said about Pew-Holders appointing them leads me to think that they have no legal authority to act but to collect the Pew Rents for you because the church belongs not to the pews, but the pews belong to the Church & were instituted to provide means for the pastors support & the necessary arrangements for divine service in the Church, which properly speaking belongs to the Clergyman under his Bshp to whom he is amenable for his administration. The Presbyterian system puts the vestry-men over the clergyman. But the Catholic system places the clergyman over the vestrymen whom he appoints & dismisses at will. Because the are taken into their office to assist the Pastor in temporal matters as in the primitive church Deacons were appointed to assist the Apostles in administration of temporalities. Surely there are no Catholics to be found who would not condemn these Deacons had they presumed an authority over the Apostles whom they were appointed to assist. Therefore, no vestry man ought to presume to control the Pastor, whom he is appointed to assist not to oppose.- Great evils have flowed in upon the Church in this Country, wherever Trustees have been appointed by an act of the civil law, because the trustees. Have availed themselves of the Civil law to lord it over their pastor instead of assisting him.+ This evil I would wish to avoid & the congregation of Norfolk should wish the same, if they mean to be respectable & happy. To effect this I recommend the following system.- Viz. the Pastor will from time to time choose a certain number of his congregation, whom he may think the best calculated to assist him on the management of the temporal concerns of the Church & by whom he may be helped by sound advice to meet the various emergences of the place.- He will by this

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System be enabled to manage all thins in peace & great respectability.
            I applaud your zeal in instructing the poor Negroes: consider it as a grand point of your duty. Diamonds are sometimes found in dunghills & they are to be taught to live contently & in the honorable state of marriage.
            You cannot marry slaves belonging to different masters without first obtaining leave from both & a promise not to separate man & wife afterwards. – The Lady who is going to Martinique ought to be induced either to leave her servant here or take the husband to the island with her.
            Marriages contracted before a Catholic ministers are not to be remarried because they are valid, thou they be Illicit. Catholics who go to Protestant ministers for marriage, must ask public pardon before the Congregation & may then be admitted to the Holy Eucharist. -
            The Bshps. Have decreed in their last meeting at Baltre that it is not free for any Priest of this Diocese to impart absolution to any freemason that goes to the lodges or does not renounce all future association with Masonry. I would rather let the young man present himself at the Tribunal & there insist on his sincere renunciation to masonry, as you can not well get over marrying him for fear of driving him to the parson which would go to render him guilty of another crime.
            Where you are under the necessity of marrying protestant and Catholic I would advise you to do it in your private room & rather than in the Church. All who are to be married should come to you &not you go to them.
            May the almighty bless you & your flock. With greatest esteem I remain my Dear & Revd Serv
Yr Sinccere Friend
& Father in Christ
+Leond Abshp of Balt_re

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Revd. Mr. Lucas 

Original Format




Maryland Province Archives , “Bishop Neale to Fr. Lucas on the regulations for slave marriages, April 1816,” Georgetown Slavery Archive, accessed June 17, 2024,