Peter Queen-Hawkins was born in 1824 in a small, one-room log cabin at the former St. Stanislaus Seminary in Florissant. The cabin housed seven slaves and doubled as a kitchen and wash house for the Jesuit community living there.
“Little Peter” as he was sometimes called, was the son of two slaves, Isaac Hawkins and Susan Queen, who came to Missouri with the Jesuits from White Marsh plantation in Maryland. As a child, Peter witnessed the brutality his relatives suffered at the hands of some Jesuits, including the religious order’s superior, Father Charles Van Quickenborne. Peter eventually married another slave, Margaret. They sought to purchase their freedom, but the abolition of slavery came first. After the Civil War, they continued working for the Jesuits.
Peter remained with the Jesuits until he died around 1907, spending his entire life in service to the Jesuits, despite his mistreatment. His story is among several that researchers uncovered through the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project, a joint effort of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) USA Central and Southern Province and Saint Louis University. The St. Louis-based project launched in 2016 to better understand and share a broader history of the Jesuits’ involvement in the institution of slavery.
The Jesuits have started contacting people whom they believe are descendants of people held in slavery by the Jesuits during the 19th century in Missouri. The goal is to develop a relationship with descendants and to find a path to reconciliation. Another purpose of the project is to recognize the evil and sin of slavery and to work within the local community to address the legacies of slavery that persist in the form of racial inequities today.
“This project highlights the importance of telling the stories, saying the names and remembering and marking the dates and places of these people who were enslaved,” said Jonathan Smith, vice president for diversity and community engagement at Saint Louis University. By sharing the stories of these individuals, it brings honor to those held in slavery, as well as their descendants, he added.
Smith said that the project also will have a vital role in the work of combatting racism as it exists today. “Because it will no longer be about slavery or anonymous slaves, but the very specific stories of people, who now you will know their names,” he said. “That brings both a level of humanity to it, a level of proximity to it and at the same time, it heightens the horror of it. As we do the work, that helps us move in a direction to a place where we can effectively work with each other, despite what our history has been.”
“We are motivated by a desire to uncover the truth of people’s stories, to honor their memories and heal relationships,” said Father Ronald Mercier, SJ, provincial of the USA Central and Southern Province. “We hope this project will be a positive contribution to the national conversations on race, prejudice and social justice.”
More on the research
Researchers started with the first names of six individuals who were enslaved by the Jesuits in Missouri. The researchers discovered the slaves’ full names, and later information on their descendants, by combing through documents including sacramental records, financial ledgers, and correspondence among the Jesuits.
Kelly Schmidt, the project’s research coordinator, said her initial research in the Jesuit archives revealed just two folders labeled “slaves” and “slavery.” By poring through additional documents and records, and “piecing all of those bits of information together,” she said, researchers learned the surnames of the enslaved, and in some cases, information on marriages and children.
Project coordinator Laura Weis oversees the project on behalf of the Jesuits, building relationships with descendants, Jesuit partners, community members, and others to advance the project’s goals. Ayan Ali supports the project as project assistant, and contributes to research along with Father Jeffrey Harrison, SJ, and others. The team has worked closely with entities including the St. Louis-based Jesuit Archives and Research Center and Saint Louis University Archives. Researchers also have used records from the Missouri Historical Society, Missouri State Archives, Archdiocese of St. Louis Archives, Jesuit Curia Archives in Rome and St. Louis City Archives.
Schmidt said she was not surprised in her discovery that the Jesuits, like many other slaveholders, frequently broke their own rules regarding physical punishment or separation of slave families. She cited the example of “Big Peter,” who may have used the surname Barada or Queen, who also worked on the Jesuits’ plantation in Florissant. He eventually married and had three children. Within the same year of the birth of his youngest child, records indicated that Peter and his wife were “causing problems” among the enslaved, Schmidt said, although the specifics were not mentioned. The Jesuits at Florissant sold him to the Jesuits at St. Joseph’s College in Bardstown, Ky. Records indicated he ran away, and he eventually was captured, imprisoned and then sold.
However, Schmidt added that she has been moved by “the lengths to which the enslaved went to preserve and protect their families and communities. What is inspiring is that in spite of the violence and ruptures in their lives, the enslaved men and women were resilient.”
The Jesuits in mainland United States likely owned more than 1,200 slaves from the colonial era through the time of emancipation in 1865. Their forced labor helped to establish, expand and sustain Jesuit missionary efforts and educational institutions in North America. Beyond Missouri and Saint Louis University, Jesuits held slaves in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Louisiana, Alabama, Illinois and Kansas. The Jesuits in Maryland sold at least 272 enslaved men, women and children to Louisiana plantations in 1838, which in part allowed Georgetown University to pay off its debts.
Beyond the Jesuits, clergy in the Archdiocese St. Louis and many religious orders here and throughout the United States participated in the institution of slavery. The Archdiocese of St. Louis currently is researching its own history of owning slaves.
Henrietta Mills’ story
Henrietta Mills was born into slavery around 1844 and was owned by Saint Louis University. Sacramental records indicate she was confirmed in the Catholic Church in 1855, when she was about 10 years old. She was married in 1860 to Charles F. Chauvin, likely in the upper gallery, known as the “colored chapel,” at St. Francis Xavier “College” Church, then located in Downtown St. Louis at what is now known as Ninth Street and Lucas Avenue. The couple had 10 children. Music was a very important to the family, according to researchers. Their youngest child, Louis Ignatius, became a famous ragtime musician, performing with Scott Joplin.
Charles worked as a porter, and Henrietta was a washer. During the Civil War, Charles served in the U.S. Colored Infantry, before returning to St. Louis in 1865. Charles died in 1890 at the age of 50. As a widow, Henrietta lived with her sons at various residences. She later attended St. Elizabeth Parish, established in 1873 for African-American Catholics. After the parish closed, many black Catholics from there attended other Jesuit-run parishes, including St. Malachy’s (closed in 1959) and St. Matthew Parish in the Ville neighborhood of north St. Louis. Henrietta died in 1905 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery’s Potter Field.
>> People enslaved by the Jesuits
The Jesuits brought six enslaved people with them when they expanded their mission from Maryland to Missouri in 1823. They are:
• Thomas and Mary (Polly or Molly) Brown
• Moses and Nancy Queen
• Isaac and Susan Queen-Hawkins
addition, two other families of about 16 people total, were forced to
move from the Jesuits’ plantation in White Marsh, Maryland, to Missouri
in 1829. They are the families of:
• Jack and Sally Queen
• Protus and Anny Hawkins/Queen
of these individuals left behind families, some of whom were sent to
Louisiana in the 1838 Maryland sale of slaves, or sold in other smaller
sales. Some of these individuals also had children who were born into
slavery, working for the Jesuits.
Over time, the number grew
through births and additional purchases, so that in any given year, the
Jesuits in Missouri may have owned at least 30 enslaved people. From
1823 to 1865, they owned, rented, or borrowed more than 70 enslaved
people in Missouri.
>> Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation Project
learn more about the Slavery, History, Memory and Reconciliation
Project, a joint effort of the Jesuits and Saint Louis University, and
to read the stories of other slaves owned by the Jesuits in Missouri,
contribute information to the project or to get involved in addressing
the sin and legacy of slavery as it is connected to the Jesuits and
Saint Louis University, contact the research team at SHMR@jesuits.org or