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In 1838, 272 men, women and children were sold by the Maryland Jesuits; a portion of the proceeds was used to pay the debts of Georgetown College (now Georgetown University), also run by the Jesuits. The enslaved people had lived on plantations belonging to the Jesuits in Maryland, and they were sold to Henry Johnson and Jesse Batey. $17,000 (equivalent to $399,978 in 2018) from the sale was used for the Georgetown College debts.
The slaves sold by the Jesuits were part of the West Oak and Chatham Plantations, in Louisiana, both of which would later change ownership. None of the terms for the sale, directed from the Catholic Church leadership in Rome, were met. These terms included that there be no familial separation, that the proceeds not be used to pay debt or the operating expenses of the college, and that the religious practice of the enslaved people be supported. In 1848, the Jesuit James Van de Velde wrote to Thomas F. Mulledy about his concerns over the lack of religious instruction received by the slaves sold to Henry Johnson, and urged Mulledy to contribute funds for the construction of a chapel.
National revelations of this connection were reported in a 2016 article in The New York Times. A discussion is ongoing addressing the question of reconciliation of the university and the descendants; an internal working group at Georgetown recommended that the university offer "the same consideration [they] give members of the Georgetown community in the admissions process" to the descendants. In response to these issues, descendant groups have formed, including the GU 272 Descendants Association.
After the revelation around the slave sale gained wider publicity, the university decided to rename two buildings that bore the names of two Jesuits at Georgetown who had played significant roles in the 1838 sale, Reverends Thomas Mulledy and William McSherry. In November 2015, Mulledy Hall was renamed Freedom Hall and McSherry Hall was renamed Remembrance Hall as temporary measures while other names were being considered. In 2017, the two buildings were rededicated in the names of Isaac, the first slave listed in the 1838 sale document, and Anne Marie Becraft, a free woman of color who established a school in Georgetown for black girls.
Isaac was an enslaved man born around 1773 and is believed to have been baptized in 1777. Historical records do not provide a family name, so his descendants' surname Hawkins was assigned to him. Before the sale he lived on the Jesuits' White Marsh plantation near present-day Bowie, Maryland, and went on to have at least five children. He was 65 years old at the time of the sale in 1838. Most of his family members were also sold and were sent to Louisiana; his son Patrick arrived on the same ship as Isaac, and his grandson Cornelius was sent to Louisiana as well. His name does not appear on bills of sale from the 1850s that include his descendants, so Isaac is assumed to have died before then. Isaac has living descendants as of 2017[update].
Isaac was chosen to represent the entire group for the building renaming because his name was first on the list of enslaved people sold. Georgetown historian Maurice Jackson said, "We thought if we take the name of the first person, in which some ways he becomes representative of the other enslaved black people sold". The building and an adjacent one had been built around 1833 and 1904, and housed Jesuits until 2004. After ten years of vacancy, they were renovated as student housing and opened in 2015.