"We are in the dark as long as we keep slaves": Br. Joseph Mobberly, S.J. calculates the cost savings from emancipation, February 5, 1815

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"We are in the dark as long as we keep slaves": Br. Joseph Mobberly, S.J. calculates the cost savings from emancipation, February 5, 1815


Slaves--emancipation; Jesuit Missions-19th Century; Catholic Clergy-Correspondence


In this letter to Georgetown President Giovanni Grassi S.J,, Brother Joseph Mobberly, S.J. urges that the Jesuits' enslaved people be sold for a time or set free. Most of the letter is devoted to calculating the cost advantage of hiring free white workers over using enslaved labor. "We are in the dark as long as we keep slaves," Mobberly wrote.

This is a valuable document for understanding the economics behind the Jesuits' desire to shift from enslaved to free labor.


Maryland Province Archives


Georgetown Slavery Archive




Adam Rothman, Tom Foley


Georgetown University Library






Manuscript letter



Text Item Type Metadata


Feb 5th 1815

Revd & Dr F. in Xst

It is better to sell for a time, or to set your people free---1st.  Because we have their souls to answer for--2nd Because Blacks are more difficult to govern now, than formerly--and 3rd Because we shall make more & more to our satisfaction.--The two first propositions are evident--I therefore proceed to prove the third.  The shortest way to prove this, is to calculate our annual expenses in regard to our people.  Having done this with as much exactness as I could, the amount stands thus

Bread for 43 Blacks= 630 Bush. corn @ 80 cts. per bush….$504..00

Meat=3468 lbs. Bacon @ 17cts pr. lb………...589..56

68 lbs. Hog’s lard @ 15 cts. Pr lb $10..20 cts--34 prs shoes @$1..10cts each--47..60

419 Yds linen @ 30 cts. Pr yd $125..70 cts.--34 prs. Stockings @ $1 each 159..70

206 yds. Cloth @ 40 cts pr. Yd. $82..40 cts. Making up cloth & linen $34=116..40

mending 34 prs. Shoes $17--Hire of Mrs. Fenwick’s 3 men @ $40 each $120….137.00

Medicine & contingent expences [sic] $20--120 chord of wood @ $2 pr. Chd. $240-280..00



Now let us suppose we had 14 hired hands and no others on the land to maintain--no slaves--suppose we give those hands $80 each, they finding their own clothes; our expences would then be as follow

Bread for 14 hands 190 Bush. @ 80 cts pr. Bush………$152..00

1340 lbs. Bacon @ 17 cts pr lb. $227..80 cts=.....227..80

10 Laborers @ $80 each $800--Gardener $80--milk maid $40...920..00

House cook $40--cook for workmen $40……..80..00



60 chord of wood @ $2 pr chd………..$120



[End Page 1]

Total expences [sic] of the Blacks………$1834.26 cts

Total expences [sic] of the white Laborers……….1499.80


Saved + $334.46

Thus by adopting the plan of hiring we save from our annual expenses the sum of $334.46 cts. according to this calculation which I think is pretty correct.  But I know that much more can be saved, for there are the county and direct taxes on slaves which I have not included---Besides, suppose we make as large crops with the 14 hands as we have with the slaves, in this case there will be more corn & a great deal of meat for sale.  We have made 400 Bbls. corn and 6000 lbs pork & there is no doubt but that the same can be made with the 14 hands.  Then I calculate thus

If we make 400 Bbls with the 14 hands, 238 Bbls will serve the Laborers & all the stock plentifully--There will therefore be left for sale 152 Bbls @ $4 per Bbl………$648..00cts

Again, if we raise 6000 lbs pork, 1340 llbs as said above will feed the 14 hands, in this case I can sell 4660 lbs ….=466..00

I then bring down what has been saved above +.......334..46


Saved & gained…….$1448..46

WE have about 15 fires burning, most of them consuming wood all day & all night--Thus all our Blacks during the winter can do scarcely any thing else besides the procuring of wood &c.  But if we had the 14 hands mentioned above, 6 fires to burn during the day only, would be sufficient, in which case we could manure the land, make fences & do many other things during the winter besides the procuring of wood….Thus you see Dr. Father we are in the dark as long as we keep slaves.  Should any objections be offered, I can give satisfactory answers--I have weighed the matter pro & con.  As to our Smiths work and mill, there will be no difficulty as our gain is equal Zero---

[End Page 2]

Our smith’s shop & wind mill gain nothing, all expences considered.  They are only good for convenience sake.  I hope your Reverence will take this matter into consideration & let me know your mind.  I know the resolve made by the Board concerning slaves, & the sooner that resolution is executed, the better it will be.  We had no mail last monday--Old Nacy is ill--I sent this day to New Town for Revd. Mr. Moynihan.  His complaint is the gravel.

A curious fact

This Christmas last past a young man of good meaning (a protestant) went to the protestant meeting house for the purpose of Receiving what they call the sacrament or Lord’s Supper--On examination he refused to receive, because he discovered that the parson instead of distributing Bread & Wine, was handing round nothing more than Bread and cider!  This fact was related the other day by the young man himself in a company of Catholics & protestants.  It happened in our settlement.

By your silence you leave me to conclude that you are either much engaged in the council assembled, or that I have tired you out with my repeated letters--We now want the clover seed to sow.  I hope to hear from your Reverence ere long--meanwile pray for yours in Xst.

Jos. P. Mobberley

Br. Barron & I have had a few charity quarrels in which he has been defeated & now seems rather ashamed of his visions, dreams, and prophetic sayings.  He now tires us with his farming principles & various opinions.  In our last quarrel he said he should go to Baltimore in the spring to consult the Archbp.  His difficulty is (from what I can learn) that God commanded him to go to the College and remain there in the Society, but wishes however to be freed from his vows without sin.   Answer this difficulty who can--He and I are friends yet.

[End Page 3]

Revd. Jno. Grassie President

Of Geo. Town College

Dist. Columbia

Original Format




Maryland Province Archives, “"We are in the dark as long as we keep slaves": Br. Joseph Mobberly, S.J. calculates the cost savings from emancipation, February 5, 1815,” Georgetown Slavery Archive, accessed July 22, 2024, https://slaveryarchive.georgetown.edu/items/show/66.