Fr. Cary intercedes for Becca, a runaway slave, March, 1820

Dublin Core


Fr. Cary intercedes for Becca, a runaway slave, March, 1820


Slavery--Fugitive slaves; Jesuits--History--19th century;


This remarkable letter from 1820 narrates the case of Becca, an enslaved woman who approached Fr. John Baptist Cary at Georgetown College after fleeing from her owner, a man who is described in the letter as "very hard & has no religion at all."

Cary wrote Fr. Francis Neale, the superior of the Maryland mission, requesting his assistance to approach Becca's owner to broker a sale to a new master. The document also sheds light into the treatment of runaway slaves by the Catholic Church, as Cary reminds Neale that Becca cannot take the sacraments until the matter is settled.


Maryland Province Archives


Georgetown Slavery Archive




Elsa Barraza Mendoza


Maryland Province Archives, Society of Jesus









Text Item Type Metadata


21st March-

            The little letter which I had prepared has been delayed until this, because Brother O’Connor did not call to take leave from me & ask my commands.

            Since that I have met with a good old woman who has begged me and to whom I have promised to write to your Reverence on her account. Her name is Becca (I suppose Rebecca) was sold 1st by Mr. Ralph Ford to Joseph Mattingly and then by this one widow to Morris near the poor’s house, from whom she has runned away under the pretense that he is very hard & has no religion at all nor his whole family. She says Mr. Bennet Semmes knows her well, (for I believe she has lived in the Neck) and has once promised her either to buy her or to procure her a good master. However she might easily get one here: she cannot be worth much, for she is 50 odd years old, perhaps 54 or 5.

She has been at St. Thomas’s Church & made her troubles known to your Reverence who told her he would pray for her. I suppose she took it as an advice to run away or at least a wish for good luck. In fact she has been quiet since her arrival in this neighborhood.

Nevertheless as she appears to be conscientious woman, she is disposed to do whatever is just & right. Wherefore your reverence will do a great act of charity by having either Mr. B Semmes or other to resort to Mr. Morris, and sound his dispositions, whether he cares not about the woman on account of her old age, or if he is willing to sell her & at what price. But the affair is delicate & ought to be managed in such a manner as not to compromise anyone, & especially your Reverence or myself. I will certainly refrain from suggesting anyone. A good old experienced head is always fertile enough in finding out plenty & proper means. I will only observe that as the woman can not with propriety receive the benefit of the Sacrt of Confess & holy Commun, until this affair is settled, the sooner it will be, the better, especially on account of the Paschal duty, ad. Maj. D. G.

Original Format




Maryland Province Archives , “Fr. Cary intercedes for Becca, a runaway slave, March, 1820,” Georgetown Slavery Archive, accessed July 22, 2024,