Where were the Jesuit plantations in Maryland?
Feb 2, 2021
From the ADW Archives
Over the last several years, there have been many news stories about the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved persons by the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus and Georgetown University. Many of those stories discussed the work being done in research and reparations by Georgetown. Little to no information about the plantations themselves, where they were actually located and what became of them after the sale was included. So let’s take a more detailed look at those plantations or manors as they were styled.
The Jesuits owned five large estates in Maryland totaling around 12,000 acres: St. Inigoes and Newtown Manor in St. Mary’s County; St. Thomas Manor in Charles County; White Marsh Manor in Prince George’s County; and Bohemia in Cecil County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
St. Inigoes and Newtown Manor contained around 3,000 acres. St. Thomas Manor, the largest, contained roughly 4,500 acres at its peak. White Marsh contained about 2,000 acres.
Each Jesuit Manor was organized in a similar fashion with a home farm, plantation fields, and numerous tenant farms. The home farm served as the home of the Jesuit priests and brothers but also included the homes of the overseers and the enslaved African Americans.
If we look at the descriptions above it is clear that four of the five Jesuits plantations were located within the current boundaries of the Archdiocese of Washington: two were located in St. Mary’s County, one in Charles County, and the last in Prince George’s County. But where precisely were they?
The oldest of the plantations was St. Inigoes in St Mary’s County. The original 2,000 acres of land had been given to the Jesuits by the Lords Baltimore in 1637, only three years after the founding of the colony of Maryland. In 1943 most of the plantation was purchased by the U.S. Navy to create Webster Field, an airbase. The chapel at St. Inigoes, which was built in the 1780s on the home farm, is all that is left standing.
The Church of St Francis Xavier at Newtowne was completed by 1741. It served as the planation chapel for Newtowne Manor, one of five Jesuits Plantations in Maryland. In the early 1980s the Archdiocese of Washington did a full restoration of this eighteenth century chapel.
Most of the property of the second plantation in St. Mary’s County, Newtown Manor, is today Newtown State Park. But nestled inside Newtown State Park is the parish of St. Francis Xavier, the site of the home farm of Newtown Manor. The chapel built in 1741 is the oldest standing church building in the Archdiocese of Washington. It, like St. Inigoes, served as the manor chapel for the Jesuit priests, tenants, and enslaved families.
Other standing buildings on the site include the Newtown Manor House which was built around 1789. Archaeologists from the state of Maryland and Historic St. Mary’s City recently did some excavation on the slave quarters adjacent to the Manor House in the park: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/jesuit-slave-quarters-unearthed-maryland-180976151/
Roughly 600 acres of the original land grant of St. Thomas Manor in Charles County is today Chapel Point State Park. The last 10 acres encompassing the home farm of St. Thomas Manor is the parish of St. Ignatius at Chapel Point. The church of St. Ignatius was built between 1797 and 1798. Its cornerstone was laid by Archbishop John Carroll, the first archbishop of Baltimore, himself a Jesuit. A small chapel built ca. 1698 now serves as the sacristy to the Church of St. Ignatius. The final original building on the home farm is St. Thomas Manor house, built in 1741, was the headquarters of the Maryland mission of the Society of Jesus for 170 years.
St. Thomas Manor was completed in 1741. The east façade with second story sleeping porch is shown here with the Church of St. Ignatius and the 1698 chapel.
The last of the plantations, White Marsh in Prince George’s County, was given to the Jesuits as a bequest in 1729 by James Carroll, Archbishop John Carroll’s cousin. It seems that by 1741, the Jesuits had taken possession and built the original chapel, which was added to around 1820. The chapel, house, and novitiate buildings perished in a fire. The current chapel was rebuilt inside the stone walls that remained after the fire. Today the parish uses a new church completed in 1969 but retains the original site of the home farm and chapel of the plantation.
So to answer the question we started with in the beginning, several of the sites and buildings that once served as the plantations upon which the 272 enslaved persons sold by Georgetown and the Jesuits lived and worked are now found in three parishes of the Archdiocese of Washington. When the Archdiocese of Washington was created in 1939, it inherited this complicated legacy. The three parishes, St Francis Xavier, Newtowne; St Ignatius, Chapel Point; and Sacred Heart, Bowie; each work to preserve and acknowledge all parts of their history.
(Dr. Jacobe serves as the director of the Archives for the Archdiocese of Washington.)