On June 19, 1838, Maryland Jesuit priests Thomas Mulledy and William McSherry sold  272 enslaved people to Louisiana sugar plantation owner Jesse Batey and former Louisiana congressman Henry Johnson to help Georgetown College, known today as Georgetown University, avoid financial ruin. 

The sale is believed to be the largest mass sale of enslaved people in U.S. history. The transaction also represents the largest documented group of enslaved people, known by first and last names, to have been owned by an educational or religious institution in the United States and sold by priests ordained by the Roman Catholic Church.

Batey, sometimes recorded as Beatty,  owned a 2,800-acre sugar plantation in Maringouin in Iberville Parish, along with land in Pointe Coupée Parish. At the time of the 1838 sale, he was a resident of Terrebonne Parish.

Growing and harvesting sugarcane was more difficult and dangerous than picking cotton. Slaves worked around the clock during harvest season to cut the cane by hand, press out the cane juice and then boil it down. Workers were often maimed in the fields or during the pressing process or burned during the boiling. 

In 2015, Georgetown alumnus Richard Cellini partnered with the group American Ancestors, the nation’s oldest nonprofit genealogical society, to create the GU272 Memory Project. The project’s mission is to provide access, education, and connection for the descendants of those 272 enslaved people sold.  The GU272 Memory Project includes a free online database to share genealogical data with anyone seeking information on the GU272 or hoping to learn if they are a descendant. 

Historians and scholars have used the case to discuss the responsibility of religious and educational institutions for acts of historical wrongdoing. Historians have also discussed the overall accuracy of the sale. Later research found that the sale may have included at least 314 men, women and children, some of which remained in Maryland. 

Although only 8,425 direct descendants of the named group have been located as of May 2019, the Georgetown Memory Project believes that there are approximately 12,000 to 15,000 descendants, both living and deceased, among 49 family groups. 

Georgetown University announced the creation in October 2022 of a fund to award $400,000 annually to “community-based projects that can impact the descendants of the men, women and children enslaved on Jesuit plantations in Maryland.” 

The Reconciliation Fund, which was inspired by an undergraduate student referendum in 2019, has begun accepting applications for projects “to benefit communities of Descendants, many of whom live in and around Maringouin, Louisiana, where their ancestors were sold and forcibly moved to in 1838,” according to the university announcement.  
To learn more about the project or the identified families, including brief biographies of some of the enslaved, a family tree, oral histories from descendants, and a family genealogy, visit GU272 Memory Project or Georgetown Memory Project.

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Shannon Stecker is a creative writer, a marketing director, and a lover of stories. She has spent the past 15 years of her career in a creative space – as a print and broadcast journalist, a freelance...