In the fall of 1838, two of Georgetown’s Jesuit priests
arranged for the sale of 272 human beings owned by the university.
The slaves worked on a Maryland plantation and their labors supplied Georgetown with cash. When the plantation was no longer profitable, the university’s leaders arranged to sell most of the slaves, who were sent to New Orleans for auction.
An inspector scrutinized the “cargo” on Dec. 6, 1838. “Examined and found correct,” he wrote of Cornelius and the 129 other people he found on the ship.
The notation betrayed no hint of the turmoil on board. But priests at the Jesuit plantations recounted the panic and fear they witnessed when the slaves departed.
Some children were sold without their parents, records show, and enslaved African-Americans were “dragged off by force to the ship,” the Rev. Thomas Lilly reported. Others, including two of Cornelius’s uncles, ran away before they could be captured.
But few were lucky enough to escape. The Rev. Peter Havermans wrote of an elderly woman who fell to her knees, begging to know what she had done to deserve such a fate, according to Robert Emmett Curran, a retired Georgetown historian who described eyewitness accounts of the sale in his research. Cornelius’s extended family was split, with his aunt Nelly and her daughters shipped to one plantation, and his uncle James and his wife and children sent to another, records show.
The ship manifest of the Katharine Jackson, available in full at the Georgetown Slavery archive, listed the name, sex, age and height of each slave transported to New Orleans in the fall of 1838. It showed that the cargo included dozens of children, among them infants as young as 2 months old.