For at least five generations, the Elder family held enslaved persons as part of their agricultural, commercial, and domestic pursuits in Maryland, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Though scholars have highlighted slaveholding by US religious orders, especially the Jesuits, little attention has been paid to how lay Catholics bought, sold, and treated their bondspeople. This study explores how the Elder family was connected to slavery, including the intergenerational transfer of human property—and the practices and mentality that sustained it.

A simple stone monument stands near Emmitsburg in Frederick County, Maryland, not far from the Pennsylvania border and the famed Mason-Dixon line. The stone, marking the site of an early Catholic chapel, reads: “Nearby was erected by William Elder, Sr. the first altar to the Living God in what is now known as Mt. St. Mary’s Emmitsburg.” In 1878, more than a century after William Elder Senior’s death, his great-grandson Bishop William Henry Elder (1819–1904) saw to the monument’s creation. The land on which he chose to erect the monument was the location for an early “Mass house,” where circuit-riding priests ministered to area Catholics beginning about 1745. The land for the memorial, located just north of the Elder family cemetery, was obtained from a shirttail relative who traded it to Bishop Elder for another property: a nearby African American cemetery, which included the bodies of enslaved persons whom the Elder family had likely owned. After the land swap, the graves in the “Negroes’ burying ground” were plowed under and the acreage returned to farmland.1

The Elder monument and the land swap that allowed for its creation are symbolic of the family’s relationship to its bondspeople: largely unacknowledged and forgotten. The Elder family’s rich history has been well-documented through the efforts of historians and genealogists, especially Mary Louise Donnelly (1926–2008). Donnelly meticulously traced the family over many generations, and while she made several references to the Elder family owning enslaved persons (often in the context of will record extracts), slavery was not a focus of her research.2

The Elder family story has instead highlighted its prominence as a Catholic family (even if not all of the early family members were Catholic) because it was connected to Catholicism’s beginnings on both sides of what became the Mason-Dixon line. In southern Pennsylvania, family members attended Conewago Chapel and assisted the missionary pioneer, Father Demetrius Gallitzin. In Maryland, the Elders welcomed (and often boarded) itinerant priests, including the future bishop of New York, Father John Dubois. Over the generations, the family included numerous priests and religious, including the notable William Henry Elder, bishop of Natchez, Mississippi, and later, archbishop of Cincinnati.3

In addition to its intergenerational Catholicism, the Elder family was closely intertwined with slavery. The Elders enslaved persons for at least five generations, from the eighteenth century through the mid-nineteenth century, as successive generations dispersed to Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, and beyond. Their slaveholding is known through federal censuses, probate records, manumission deeds, and sacramental entries. These records indicate the Elders held an average of three to seven bondspeople per family unit during the 1700s before the number decreased to two bondspeople or less per family during the early 1800s. Very few Elder family members had enslaved persons at the time of slavery’s abolishment in 1865. The enslaved persons the family acquired did not always remain with the Elders; bondspeople were sold or rented to nearby plantations, sometimes with the stipulation that their freedom would be granted at a specific age (often age thirty-five). Enslaved persons could be bought or sold without concern for keeping them within the family, but in several instances, bondspersons passed from father to son or father to daughter or even grandfather to granddaughter.4

Evidence of family members’ personal views on slavery is not extant, but surviving records of their slave ownership prove a lengthy entanglement with slavery. It confirms the perceived lack of conflict between their Catholic faith and slave ownership, and hints at concern for enslaved persons’ religious instruction and practice. These records, beyond family histories, genealogical tables, and monuments, speak for the enslaved when the family’s public memory falters. Though recent scholarship has highlighted slaveholding by US religious orders, especially the Jesuits, how lay Catholics bought, sold, and treated their bondspeople has received little attention. The Elder family’s slaveholding serves as a case study in lay Catholic slave ownership, offering insights into the role of race-based slavery among the members of one of early American Catholicism’s leading families.


Catholics were not numerous in the United States before the nineteenth century. Still, most Catholics in the British colonies lived in Maryland, where slavery became a significant cultural and economic reality. Maryland’s early Catholics, arriving to the colony on the Ark and the Dove in 1634, included several persons of color, likely indentured servants. This form of servitude—experienced by Blacks and Whites—was practiced for at least a century in the mid-Atlantic, often mixed with other labor arrangements, including wage laborers, tenants, apprentices, and slaves. By the mid-eighteenth century, the Maryland workforce shifted to those permanently enslaved: the institution of race-based, hereditary slavery.5

Economic and agricultural development, including the so-called tobacco revolution, helped spur a substantial increase in slaveholding. By the late eighteenth century, enslaved persons numbered nearly one-third of Maryland’s population. As the young state grew, however, the enslaved population did not keep pace, and the number of bondspeople declined—due to a mixture of factors, both social and economic. By 1860, free Blacks nearly equaled the number of enslaved, and Maryland had among the fewest enslavers of any southern state.6

In northern Maryland, where the Elder family settled, slavery’s growth never equaled the state’s southern counties. Still, as historian Max Grivno has argued, the institution “lost none of its malignancy.” The proximity to Pennsylvania meant that, for the enslaved, freedom was within reach, but even if bondspeople managed to cross the Mason-Dixon line, they could be recovered. Because the region’s agriculture consisted of mixed farming, not cash crops, the number of enslaved was limited, but slavery remained a strong cultural and economic force in northern Maryland through the early nineteenth century.7

With the panic of 1819 came the beginning of slavery’s end, as northern Maryland saw a downturn in commodity prices and plummeting property values. In response, area slaveowners sold thousands of bondspeople to labor on cotton and sugar plantations in the Deep South, shedding at least 10 percent of its enslaved population within a decade. Other slave owners manumitted their human chattel, often promising to do so after they completed an additional term of enslavement or immediately (if they were old or sick). Delayed emancipation was not usually altruistic but often a tactic to assure bondspersons’ obedience and, along the Mason-Dixon line, discourage runaways. By the 1850s, slavery retained only a shadow of its former strength—a casualty of economic realities leading to sale or manumission.8

The acceptance of slavery differed not just geographically but according to cultural and religious identities. Historian Maura Jane Farrelly argues that Maryland’s Catholics were more likely than their non-Catholic counterparts to own enslaved persons and hold a higher number. They were also less likely to emancipate them, even in old age.9 While some religious groups such as Quakers and Methodists became vigorous supporters of manumission, Catholics rarely viewed slaveholding as antithetical to their faith. Instead, holding enslaved persons was a marker that Catholics were true citizens and not slaves themselves—contrary to what some anti-Catholics maintained. As scholar Michael Breidenbach has recently written, “For a Catholic to possess another human was to assert his own liberty.”10

For Catholics, the holding of bondspeople was an opportunity and obligation, economically and religiously. The Church mandated that Catholic slaveowners ensure that their bondspeople were baptized and learned the rudiments of the faith. Among those enslaved by Catholics, however, religious participation was not universal. Some owners neglected their duties or even actively worked against enslaved persons’ attending Mass, having their marriages solemnized, or receiving Last Rites and Christian burial.11

Slavery was practiced among Catholic families, religious orders, and educational institutions. The Daughters of Charity of Emmitsburg owned a small number of enslaved persons, perhaps received as gifts, and then sold them. The Carmelite Sisters of Port Tobacco held a sizeable number of persons on their plantation in southern Maryland. The Jesuits were significant owners of land and bondspeople in southern Maryland. In 1838, the Jesuits sold 272 enslaved persons to two Louisiana planters—a decision criticized for breaking up families and impeding their practice of Catholicism.12

The Sulpician priests, who staffed seminaries in Baltimore and Emmitsburg, utilized enslaved persons to operate their farms and institutions. When Mount St. Mary’s College was formed in Emmitsburg, enslaved people likely accompanied the two hundred–acre land sale (property that the Elder family had owned). The school continued to utilize the labor of approximately twelve to sixteen enslaved persons through the 1820s, when they gradually weaned themselves from the practice, emancipating the last in 1858.13

The number of bondspeople owned by Catholic families, religious orders, and institutions decreased by the 1820s and 1830s—after many other Marylanders had manumitted their enslaved persons. The reason for relinquishing enslaved people, whether moral, religious, or economic, is not always known, but it is unlikely that Catholic slaveholders experienced a broad moral awakening. As Maura Jane Farrelly has written, for US Catholics, neither their faith nor civic understanding prevented slave ownership. They did not view the “hierarchical and authoritarian reality of slavery as inconsistent with the republican principles they embraced when they became Americans.”14

From the early seventeenth century through the mid-nineteenth, Maryland Catholics lived, worked, and worshipped in a culture intertwined with slavery. The institution impacted their economic and social interactions. Even those who did not own enslaved persons were often descended from families entangled in the slave economy. The practices of slave-owning and dealing cast a long shadow on Maryland and its Catholic clergy, religious, and laity—including its most venerable families.15


The Elder family was among the colony’s early settlers. William Elder (known in the genealogical record as “the emigrant”) (c. 1681–c. 1714) arrived there by the early eighteenth century. He married Elizabeth Finch in 1705. Elizabeth’s father, Guy Finch (1655–1688), had come to Maryland in 1674, perhaps as an indentured servant. Profiting from tobacco, Guy Finch obtained sufficient funds to purchase one hundred acres, half of which he would bequeath to William and Elizabeth.16 Religiously, the Elder-Finch family in Maryland was likely Catholic, though some members of the family may have been Presbyterian or Church of England.17 After Guy Finch died, his wife Rebecca married a Catholic, Henry Culver. Culver’s will stipulated that if his wife remarried, she would not receive her inheritance if she wed a Protestant.

It seems that enslaved persons did not initially work the Elder land since no enslaved persons are recorded as part of William’s modest estate.18 However, he died young, and his wife remarried twice. At the time of the death of Elizabeth’s second husband, Solomon Stimton (also spelled Stimson and Stinson) (1681–1727), the estate included “3 negrows, 1 man, 1 dito woman, 1 dito girl” (valued collectively at £77, more than one-third of his total estate).19 Of his property, each of the two sons of William and Elizabeth (William, born in 1707, and Thomas Elder, born c. 1709) received “one cow and [one] calfe,” but none of the enslaved persons.20 When William married in 1728, his mother gave him three hundred pounds of tobacco (a veritable currency in the eighteenth century), indicative of the family’s wealth and potential slave acquisition.21 Elizabeth’s third husband, Peter Hoggins, whom she married in 1728, held at least one enslaved person, a woman named Phillis, whom Hoggins bequeathed to his widow22 (table 1).


Genealogical table of the principal subjects of this study, showing five generations of the Elder family involved in slave ownership. Courtesy of the author.


Records do not indicate the reasons for the Elder family’s turn to slavery; however, this period saw a growth in Maryland slaveholding as landowners sought a dependable workforce. For many planters, acquiring bondspeople “bespoke temporary expediency more than an abiding commitment to the institution.” However, once obtained, enslaved persons were more likely to be viewed as a reliable, maybe even necessary, means of production.23

Slaveholding firmly took root in the second generation of the Elder family in America. William Elder (1707–1775), the son of William the emigrant, began farming land in Emmitsburg (in what became Frederick County) by 1732. Unlike his father, William gained immense landholdings, perhaps as much as 1,300 acres.24 Here he cultivated grain and livestock (cattle, sheep, and hogs) and sold flour, animal hides, and whiskey.25 Due to the immensity of the agricultural operation, Elder purchased enslaved persons—likely beginning in the 1740s or 1750s when he significantly increased his acreage. The identities of the enslaved persons who worked the Elder land (or served as domestics) have been mostly lost, but William’s will, written in 1773, stated that he gave to his second wife, Jacoba Clementina, “all of my negroes” (except those explicitly bequeathed to others) for use “during her widowhood.” He directed that “one negro girl named Cate” be provided to his married daughter, Anne Spalding—“which she has already in her use and service.”26

William clearly embraced the Catholic faith. The land William purchased, which was nestled between the Catoctin Mountains to the west and the Monocacy River to the east, he named “St. Mary’s Mount” (the future site of Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary). His property was likely the location for the first Mass in the area, and to assist traveling missionaries, he erected about 1745 a suitable chapel, which stood until the time of the Civil War and was the location for Bishop Elder’s monument to his forebears. According to one tradition, when a priest arrived in the vicinity, a conch shell was used to call worshippers—reportedly a duty of the family’s enslaved persons.27 The Elder family was instrumental in forming a local parish (first named St. Mary’s and later St. Anthony), petitioning Baltimore’s first bishop, John Carroll, by letter in 1807 and 1808 that the church be entrusted to the Sulpician priests. In the correspondence, the letter writers refer to themselves as members of the “Elders congregation,” suggesting the community’s fictive ties, if not a common genetic composition28 (fig. 1).


Elder family plantations, pictured in an 1858 Frederick County, Maryland map. The landholdings of L. Elder, E. Lily, and J. and A. Brawner are found near the label for Mount St. Mary’s College. Courtesy: The Library of Congress.


Elder family plantations, pictured in an 1858 Frederick County, Maryland map. The landholdings of L. Elder, E. Lily, and J. and A. Brawner are found near the label for Mount St. Mary’s College. Courtesy: The Library of Congress.

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William bequeathed to his children both the Catholic faith and slave ownership. Of William’s twelve children, at least seven held bondspeople. One of them, Elizabeth (Elder) Brawner (1743–1820), was willed the enslaved girl “Leobe” by her mother’s father, Arnold Livers (1669–1751). The Livers, who had immigrated from Flanders (in modern-day Belgium) to Maryland before 1700, apparently utilized enslaved labor by the mid-eighteenth century, perhaps setting the pattern for the Elder family’s slave ownership. Elizabeth was only eight years old at the time of the execution of Arnold Livers’ will, but she would own enslaved persons throughout her life.29 The number of enslaved persons Elizabeth held is unknown, but in 1812 she manumitted a bondsman named Joseph for $325—a healthy sum for the time.30 Among the twelve known manumissions of Elder bondspeople in Frederick County, most were not emancipated before reaching thirty-five years old and then only with some financial consideration.31

Over two generations, the Elders established themselves as members of the propertied class as owners of both land and slaves while embracing the Catholic faith. The propagation of the Elder family and the height of its slaveholding would mark the next generation.


By the third generation, the grandchildren of William the emigrant, slavery had become an accepted form of labor on the Elder family’s farms. Nearly every Elder household in Frederick County held enslaved people by the turn of the eighteenth century. In 1790, when William’s son Arnold (1745–1812) owned his father’s Emmitsburg plantation, the family had seven enslaved persons and one White servant. In 1800, eleven bondspeople worked the property in agricultural or domestic duties.32 In 1811, the childless Arnold Elder and his wife, Clotilda (Green) Elder, offered their plantation—and perhaps the three enslaved persons working on the property—for a preparatory school for young men discerning the priesthood. The land was accepted on behalf of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in exchange for sending Arnold and Clotilda an annual payment for the remainder of their lives.33

Charles Elder (1730–1804), the son of William and his first wife Ann Wheeler, farmed land in Frederick County and Bedford County, Pennsylvania—just over the border from Maryland. It is unknown whether enslaved persons assisted in his agricultural work in Pennsylvania, but bondspeople were present locally. In 1780, the legislature passed an act freeing children born to enslaved mothers once the child reached the age of twenty-eight, but bondspeople’s servitude continued in Pennsylvania for decades.34 In 1790, Charles’s bondspeople totaled seven. In 1800, his household consisted of him and his wife, Julia, and three enslaved persons. According to his will, “Whereas my daughter Mary Ann [Montgomery] has received the value of one hundred pounds in slaves, this sum is to [be] deducted from her share of my inheritance.”35 Mary Ann and her husband, Charles Montgomery, were among the Elder family members to relocate to central Kentucky, near Springfield. Here the family prospered, acquiring more land and enslaved people. In 1810, as a recent widow, Mary Ann lived with her children and six bondspeople.36

Guy Elder (1731–1805), also the son of William and Ann, owned a moderate number of enslaved persons. He held two enslaved people in 1790 and three in 1800 on his Frederick County property. When he drafted his will in 1804, he did not mention enslaved persons when he bequeathed to three of his children equal shares of “the plantation I live on now with all the improvements thereof.” Yet bondspeople may have remained.37

Mary Elder Lilly (1735–1797), William and Ann’s fifth and last child, also held bondspeople. According to her will, her eldest son Samuel received “one negro man named Jack, one negro named Harry and one negro woman named Hannah.”38 Samuel manumitted two of his slaves in 1801: the above-mentioned Harry and his wife, Jane.39 Their emancipation is not evidence of a decision to gradually emancipate. When Samuel died in 1820, he bequeathed to his wife his entire estate, including eight persons: “1 negro man Jack, 1 negro woman Nelly, 1 negro woman Mealy, 1 negro David, 1 negro boy George, 1 negro boy Lewis, 1 negro boy John, 1 negro girl Harriet.” The enslaved people were valued at $1,435—ranging from only $20 for Jack (likely an elderly man and perhaps the same person who had been inherited from his mother two decades earlier) to $300 each for Mealy and George. The value of his human chattel accounted for nearly half of his extensive estate inventory—an inventory that ran to four pages.40 (fig. 2).


Estate inventory of Samuel Lilly, son of Mary (Elder) Lilly, showing the names and valuations of his enslaved persons: Jack, Nelly, Mealy, David, George, Lewis, John, and Harriet. Source: Frederick County, Maryland Probate Court Records, Book HS 4, page 462.


Estate inventory of Samuel Lilly, son of Mary (Elder) Lilly, showing the names and valuations of his enslaved persons: Jack, Nelly, Mealy, David, George, Lewis, John, and Harriet. Source: Frederick County, Maryland Probate Court Records, Book HS 4, page 462.

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Thomas (1748–1832), son of William and his second wife Jacoba, farmed land in Frederick County before moving with his wife and several children to Nelson County, Kentucky, in about 1800. Thomas, however, did not prosper there. He incurred heavy debts and was briefly imprisoned.41 He had a plantation in Spencer County but sold it in his later years. At his death, his estate was valued at $500 ($450 of that evaluation was for an enslaved man named Terry).42

By the third generation’s conclusion, the Elder family had a well-established pattern of slave ownership. No fewer than seven of William’s children owned enslaved people in Maryland or elsewhere. Several branches of the family migrated to Pennsylvania or Ohio, where slavery was prohibited. Still, for most of the Elders, the presence of the enslaved was a critical economic factor in maintaining their farms and households and increasing wealth.


The next generation, the great-grandchildren of William the emigrant, continued the family’s slaveholding. It was by then a clear identity and mark of social standing—one that was not seen in conflict with the family’s Catholic faith. The profits of enslavement were part of Maryland Catholics’ quest for affluence and influence. The paternalism inherent in slavery meant that masters oversaw every aspect of the lives of the enslaved, including their religious practices. That the Elder family welcomed and indeed expected their enslaved persons to practice their faith is evident from the records of the Catholic parish in Emmitsburg. Despite their differing statuses, the parish recorded slave and free in the same sacramental registers and buried them near one another in a separate section of the family cemetery.

The great-grandsons of William—Richard Elder (1766–1814), Nathaniel Elder (1773–1861), and Aloysius “Lewis” Elder (1798–1871)—all farmed land near Emmitsburg and utilized the labor of enslaved persons. Richard Elder had six bondspeople in 1810, and at the time of his death in 1814, he bequeathed to his wife “one negro girl named Charlotte, two cows, three hogs, and all the house furniture, and grain/wheat/rye, etc.”43 The remaining enslaved persons, if any, had likely been sold. In 1820, Nathaniel Elder held five enslaved persons: a female aged twenty-six to forty-four, with four children: two girls and two boys under the age of fourteen. In 1830, he held one bondsman aged between ten and twenty-three. After his wife died, Nathaniel moved to Somerset, Ohio, to live with a son and daughter—selling his bondspeople before making the trip.44 Lewis held two enslaved persons in 1830, a female and a male, both between the ages of ten and twenty-three. In 1840, he had one free person of color (a boy under the age of ten) but reportedly no enslaved people in his household, and in 1850, one enslaved female, age eight.45

The sacramental records of Emmitsburg’s ‘church on the hill’ (then known as St. Mary’s), which begin in 1815, indicate the identities of an enslaved person presumed to belong to Nathaniel and two others to Lewis. Sacramental records often provide imprecise indicators of ownership, usually identifying a person only as “colo(u)red” (without reference to slave or free). Though the information provided for enslaved persons is incomplete (for instance, only first names were often recorded), when compared with additional records, the entries allow for a recovery of the identities of some of the enslaved families on the Elder lands.

For instance, the church baptized Frances Scholastica, the daughter of “Joseph, of Mr. Crockett” and “Dinah, of Nath[aniel] Elder,” on February 13, 1826 (her godmother being Louisa Elder—one of Nathaniel’s daughters). Elsewhere the parents are identified as Joseph Dugan and Dinah Butler. The two were married on April 17, 1825, with the annotation: “both slaves.” Marriage entries often record that the consent of the master was obtained before the wedding, but this detail is absent from this record, though the names of their respective masters are provided. The church records also mention a second child of Joseph and Dinah, named Samuel, baptized on July 9, 1826, with his baptismal sponsors noted as “Samuel and Rebecca, colored people.”46

Alexander and Harriett (Brisken) Thomas, identified as belonging to Lewis Elder, are mentioned frequently in Mount St. Mary’s sacramental records. They first appeared in the entry of June 2, 1833, when their son Isaac was baptized. The entry contains the curious annotation: “Parents willing to become Catholics”—a likely indicator of the religious influence of their master. Alexander and Harriett were married in the church two years later and, as their family grew, had at least ten children baptized. The entries indicate that they were owned successively by at least three different masters, but they maintained their connection to Mount St. Mary’s parish.47

The very existence of these records offers some insight into enslaved persons’ religious identities. For those whom the Elder family enslaved, reception of the Church’s sacraments was encouraged though perhaps not mandated. For instance, Lewis Elder’s enslaved couple, Alexander and Harriett Thomas, was not Catholic when their first child was baptized. Still, once brought into the Church, having their children baptized as Catholics was an expectation. The enslaved may have been able to choose their sacramental sponsors since witnesses were sometimes identified as persons of color (or only a first name was provided, indicating the likelihood of a fellow bondsperson), though members of their master’s family were also sometimes chosen.

Death records from Mount St. Mary’s, which exist beginning from 1820, show frequent burials in two cemeteries: the “Mount” cemetery, located near the old parish church and the “Aloys Elder cemetery” (the Elder family cemetery). Several early burials (c. 1821–27) of enslaved persons note interment on Aloysius Elder’s land. In his will, Aloysius mentions the “burying ground adjoining my garden” and the “adjacent lot now occupied as a grave yard for the negroes of the congregation of Mount St. Mary’s Church.”48 The first cemetery mentioned in the will was used for Elder family burials: William, his wives, and children, including Aloysius himself (1757–1827). Whether the enslaved persons buried in the adjacent lot were owned by the Elder family or other area families is not clear, but it was likely the burial location for some Elder slaves49 (fig. 3).


Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland, ca. 1826. The school was built on land the Elder family had owned and on which enslaved persons worked. Courtesy: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture.


Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland, ca. 1826. The school was built on land the Elder family had owned and on which enslaved persons worked. Courtesy: H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Center for History and Culture.

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The nearness of the burials of the enslaved to Elder family members could suggest a kind of spiritual egalitarianism—if not in life, in death—or simply pragmatism. One interesting gravestone found in the cemetery is for Ignatius Colbert (also spelled Calvert), who died in 1838 at the amazing age of 104 (according to his headstone). According to one source, he was “colored,” suggesting that he could have been an Elder family bondsman.50 Though many of the enslaved were not memorialized in stone, Ignatius was, perhaps due to his age and long service.

Besides what can be gleaned from sacramental records, there is little information on how the Elder family’s enslaved persons were taught the faith. The burial records for Mount St. Mary’s, however, again provide a clue. An entry for Father James Lynch from 1828 described him as a “priest of this house, professor of mathematiques and confessor of the children and the people of color, full of zeal and love for them as long as his health permitted.”51 The priests, at first primarily Sulpicians, who staffed the Emmitsburg college (as well as St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore) provided ministry to the enslaved while also buying, selling, and managing their human property. This may seem an apparent moral contradiction, but not according to their understanding. As a Sulpician historian concluded, they “did not find it difficult to affirm the spiritual dignity and equality of enslaved persons without, at the same time, affirming their social and economic equality.”52


The fifth generation of Elders witnessed slavery’s uncertain future as they increasingly sold or manumitted their enslaved people. The number of bonds-people held by the Elder family was significantly reduced. Slavery’s benefits were questioned as some family members weighed the advantages of wage labor over chattel: laborers were exchangeable, were not “property” that could run away, and did not need to be cared for in sickness or old age. Census records suggest that several Elder family members exchanged their enslaved persons for Irish servants—a reliable and inexpensive labor source.

When many of the Elders departed for Kentucky, Thomas’s son, Basil Spalding Elder (1773–1869) and his wife, Elizabeth Miles (Snowden) Elder (1781–1860), remained in Maryland. As a teenager, Basil moved from Emmitsburg to Baltimore to serve as a clerk in the grocery store of his mother’s relative, William Spalding. Basil became a partner in the grocery business of “Spalding and Elder” and, eventually, sole owner.53 Baltimore’s economy was closely linked to slavery, even as the number of enslaved decreased throughout the 1820s and 1830s. From more than 10 percent of the city’s population in 1800, enslaved persons fell to 3 percent—a consequence of urbanization and increased availability of non-enslaved workers.54 Though the plantation on which he was reared may have had a dozen or more persons enslaved, Basil never owned more than two at any time, likely due to his work as a merchant. In 1820, two bondspeople served the family, perhaps as domestics or assisting the family business, or both. By 1830, one enslaved person (a woman between thirty-six and fifty-five years old) was held by the family, and ten years later, two bondspeople (a female between ten and twelve years old and a male under ten). By 1850, there is no evidence of the family holding enslaved persons, having been replaced by wage labor: live-in, Irish-born servants.55

Basil’s son, Francis William Elder (1807–1889), who followed in his father’s business in Baltimore, held slaves before 1860. He manumitted in 1859 the twenty-two-year-old Dolly Morgan, who had been reared in northern Maryland’s Harford County.56 Like his father, Francis employed numerous Irish-born servants, usually young women in their teens or twenties. Despite this turn from slaveholding, another of Basil’s sons John Carroll Elder (1813–1900), appears to have continued to own a moderate number of bondspeople (sixteen in 1860). He had migrated from Maryland to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he acquired a cotton plantation and continued to hold enslaved persons through the beginning of the Civil War (fig. 4).57


Archbishop William Henry Elder (center) with his brothers: John, Basil, Charles, Joseph, Francis, and Thomas, 1883. Courtesy: The Archives of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.


Archbishop William Henry Elder (center) with his brothers: John, Basil, Charles, Joseph, Francis, and Thomas, 1883. Courtesy: The Archives of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

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Alexius J. Elder (1791–1871), who became a Sulpician priest, was a great-great-grandson of William Elder the emigrant. The plantation of Alexius’s father, Bennett, had utilized slave labor. When Alexius began studies for the priesthood in 1816 at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, he would have interacted with the enslaved persons who worked as domestics there. After ordination, he served at the Baltimore seminary as treasurer. Perhaps in this role, he was responsible for manumitting a forty-year-old woman named Jane in 1833. If Jane belonged to the Sulpician community (as opposed to him personally), her being freed was undoubtedly not his decision alone. The choice to free her may indicate the increasingly fragile status of slavery among Maryland Catholics. The Sulpicians held enslaved persons at several locations beginning in the 1790s, but as the size of their landholdings decreased, they sold or moved the enslaved. By 1840, two elderly bondsmen remained at St. Mary’s Seminary—likely the last persons the Sulpician community enslaved.58

John Francis Elder (1806–1879), William’s great-great-grandson, was the last Elder to own enslaved persons in Frederick County. In 1860, his household consisted of his wife and three children, an eleven-year-old free Black named Charles Butler, and an unnamed twenty-year-old bondsman. Whether Charles descended from other Butler family members the Elders had enslaved is unclear, and his status as “free” is puzzling because he had not yet reached majority. Despite his free status, his work was perhaps similar to his forebears, whom the Elder family may have enslaved (table 2).59


Chart indicating the total number of persons enslaved in Elder households and the proportion of Elder households holding bondspeople in Frederick County, Maryland. Courtesy of the author.


The Elder family’s reliance on slavery declined markedly over the nineteenth century’s first half. Hereditary, race-based slavery became less common in the region where the Elder family lived, as bondspeople were sold to the south and west. In northern Maryland, mixed agriculture had become prominent, and seasonal employees replaced the enslaved.60 It is unknown what informed the Elder family’s decisions about slaveholding, whether moral or economic or a combination thereof, but its entanglement with slavery would continue to impact additional generations.61


Even for those who did not own other persons, patterns of thought about race persisted, as seen in the life of Bishop William Henry Elder. Elder held a complicated, evolving relationship with African Americans and slavery, from his time in Maryland through his appointment as bishop of Natchez, Mississippi (1857–80) to his service as archbishop of Cincinnati (1880–1904).62 He did not personally own enslaved persons, but this did not mean he opposed slavery. For much of his life, he appeared to uncritically accept the system, even as he displayed concern for the temporal and spiritual well-being of bondspeople.

William Henry spent his boyhood in Baltimore, where his father, Basil, owned several bondspersons. Like so many of his family, William studied at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, located on land where his ancestors benefited from enslaved labor. After studies in Rome and ordination to the priesthood in 1846, Father Elder returned as a member of the Mount St. Mary’s seminary faculty. His ministry included saying Mass and offering the sacraments to parish members: Black, White, enslaved, and free. One of the baptisms he performed was for the children of a couple his family had enslaved. On August 30, 1847, he baptized Mary Rose and Alexander Joseph, the children of Alexander and Harriett Thomas, who are recorded elsewhere in the register as the bondspersons of his father’s first cousin, Aloysius “Lewis” Elder. Father Elder’s reflections on the event are not known. He may have considered how the children may not have been brought for baptism without their master being Catholic. He also may have been unaware of the relationship, given that such connections were common. He had little knowledge of the Thomas family, as deduced by the spaces in the baptismal register he left for the children’s birthdate(s) and the names of their sponsors—presumably to be filled in later (which never occurred).63

William Henry departed Maryland in 1857 when he was named bishop of Natchez, Mississippi. The new bishop did not acquire enslaved persons, despite all of the other Natchez clergy, except a Baptist minister, owning bondspersons.64 Still, Bishop Elder’s ministry in the Deep South would be closely linked to slavery. He largely refrained from speaking on the institution; however, comments made in his correspondence and diary entries suggest his perspective. They show a striking ambivalence: unwavering support for the southern way of life, including acceptance of slavery, yet a desire to provide for African Americans’ spiritual and temporal needs.

Bishop Elder’s desire to offer spiritual care transcended race. Noting in 1858 that his diocese included 310,000 enslaved persons, he explained that few had the benefits of religion. “These poor Negroes,” he wrote, “form in some respects my chief anxiety.”65 He lamented the shortage of priests in Mississippi and pleaded, “Are there not priests of God . . . ready to put the sickle into this abundant field?”66 But the laborers were few, and Elder endeavored to do what he could, teaching catechism and offering the sacraments. Elder related the request of an enslaved man, Basil Thomas, who had been whipped for refusing to work on Sundays. According to Elder, “He sent for beads & a crucifix. I sent him beads. I had no crucifix.” He later had the opportunity to meet Thomas and offer him the sacraments—a memorable enough encounter that he recorded it in his diary.67

Elder’s anthropology informed his approach. According to the Black Catholic historian Cyprian Davis, “For Elder, the African American slave was part child, part animal, part saint.”68 In reporting on his diocese in 1858, Elder wrote of the potential for a “harvest of souls” among the enslaved. The “Negro race” had, in his estimation, many innate characteristics to assist them in following the Christian life, including “the humility of their condition,” the “docility of their character,” and their being “naturally inclined to be dependent on others.” At the same time, however, “their weakness of mind and will” made it “hard for [the enslaved] to understand an argument” or “resist temptation.” “They are so entirely animal in their inclinations,” he concluded, “that they have no regard for any thing above gratifications of the body.”69 Writing to a fellow priest in 1859, he echoed this assessment: the enslaved are members of “a difficult race—have many difficulties in their disposition—but many of them become good Christians & some of them very holy.”70 He cited the potential holiness of the enslaved, writing, for instance, “I have known a case of a servant girl’s being really revered as a saint by the family in which she had been reared, and where she was working with all simplicity and fidelity.” Elder believed that enslaved persons had immortal souls, were made in the image and likeness of God, and were ransomed through the blood of Jesus, yet none of this required their freedom.71

Elder refrained from public commentary on slavery, but his views likely matched other southern prelates, including Bishop Augustin Verot of St. Augustine, Florida—the so-called rebel bishop. Elder sent fifty copies of Verot’s pro-slavery sermon, “Slavery and Abolitionism,” to Confederate chaplain and Natchez priest Francis Pont, directing him to distribute it to whomever “it will do the most good.’72 The sermon, delivered on January 4, 1861, in the wake of the secession of several states, argued that abolitionism was “unjust, iniquitous, unscriptural, and unreasonable,” whereas slavery received “the sanction of God, of the Church, and of society at all times.” As such, slavery was not evil, but it required “certain conditions” under which it could be “legitimate, lawful . . . and consistent with practical religion and true holiness of life.” Verot argued that enslaved persons were made “to the image and likeness of God”; they were “endowed with reason and understanding” and “a man, by being a slave, does not cease to be a man.” For this reason, masters had obligations toward their bondspeople, including providing material necessities and conditions for fostering religious practice and family life. Verot’s sermon was unapologetically pro-Confederacy, including the maintenance of slavery as intrinsic to its future.73 It is not sure that Elder agreed with all of these sentiments, but it seems likely he held privately much of what Verot proclaimed publicly.74

What is known of Bishop Elder’s conceptions of race comes from his diary. He, interestingly, refrained from using the word “slave,” choosing instead to refer to bondspersons and formerly enslaved persons as “negroes,” “servants,” or simply “blacks.” Elder’s comments show a paternalism that viewed southerners as the ideal caretakers of Black persons. In 1858, he articulated a mostly positive view of slavery and its “care” for the enslaved, writing, “I believe they [enslaved persons] are generally well cared for, so far as health and the necessities of life are concerned.”75 However, as the Civil War lingered on and many of the enslaved were freed by advancing Union forces, Elder was highly critical of the federal government, which he believed was not adequately concerned for African Americans’ well-being. He wrote that though the Union Army had promised to help them, “the negroes are dying in the streets of Vicksburg.” Indicating his belief that the enslaved were better off before emancipation, he stated, “Those who had plenty are exposed to sickness from change of place, & diet—& water & from want of some one to look after them.” Bishop Elder complained that there was no government effort to aid freedmen: “no policy in their regard, except to deprive the masters of their services.” He predicted that “as far as the Fed. Govt. & Army prevail, the [African] race will die out like that of the Indians.”76

In emancipation’s aftermath, Elder lamented the filthy, disease-ridden refugee camps in which the freedmen lived. He visited Natchez’s “Colored Camp” and its Black hospital in the autumn of 1863. He recorded in his diary and memorandum book the names of dozens of persons for whom he provided the sacraments—instances of baptism, extreme unction, viaticum, and even marriage. He ministered to at least nine members of the all-Black Union regiment, the Sixth Mississippi, then being cared for at an area hospital.77 According to the surviving sacramental records, he and his priests baptized over seven hundred African Americans, most of whom were sick or dying soldiers or refugees, including women and children. According to his account, Elder personally baptized over five hundred.78

Elder’s impulse was to provide material and spiritual assistance without discrimination, but his southern loyalties were strong. When contacted about opening an orphanage for Black children in Vicksburg, he explained that he would not stand against it but that it would need to be run entirely by the “people of the North . . . without any positive co-operation on my part.” However, he may have had a change of heart as he worked behind the scenes to gain support for the orphanage, writing to Archbishop John B. Purcell of Cincinnati. Since Purcell had been a vocal supporter of emancipation, Elder conceived that Purcell might assist in the effort. In Purcell, Elder desired a Northerner to initiate the work and perhaps shoulder the blame—should, as Elder hoped, the Confederacy be victorious.79

Long-held, transgenerational understandings of race shaped Elder’s thoughts, but he did not embrace the most extreme forms of racial essentialism—that differences with Whites are fixed and uniform. Shortly after the war, he was keen to develop a plan for ministry to African Americans. When it was suggested that Blacks could be admitted to the priesthood, he responded that it was possible, but the “colored clergy at present would not command respect.”80 At the same time, he worried that Blacks failed to live up to the Church’s moral teachings, especially regarding sexuality. African Americans were often less lustful than Whites but, he wrote, “because of external influences . . . the whites control themselves better.”81

Bishop Elder remained close to his roots—and the racial understandings of his youth. When he decided to memorialize his ancestors’ role in bringing Catholicism to Frederick County, as previously mentioned, he sold a portion of the African American cemetery, which may have been the resting place of enslaved persons connected to his family. The land was traded for a “large triangle of land north of the graveyard,” on which he built the monument to William Elder Sr. and Emmitsburg’s “first altar to the Living God.” The Elders were memorialized, but those buried in the Black cemetery were erased from memory.82

Still, his interest in the spiritual well-being of freedmen was keen. Upon his transfer to Cincinnati in 1880 to become archbishop, Elder sought funding for evangelizing former slaves. In 1882, the bishops of the Cincinnati Province, under Elder’s leadership, agreed to take up an annual collection to support the “Negro apostolate.” Two years later, Elder—with the one-time, pro-slavery bishop Augustin Verot—called for a national collection for African American ministry. The nation’s bishops concurred; the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1884) decreed that the collection be taken at each parish on the first Sunday in Lent.83

Elder also became the chief supporter of Daniel Rudd, a formerly enslaved man and Black Catholic leader, who had moved from central Ohio to Cincinnati in 1886. Elder supported the publication of Rudd’s American Catholic Tribune, a periodical for Black Catholics published in Cincinnati between 1886 and 1894, and sponsored Rudd’s participation in the International Anti-Slavery Congress in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1889. When Rudd spearheaded the first meeting of a Colored Catholic Congress, which convened in Washington, DC, in 1889, Elder was in attendance. Rudd arranged for him to be part of the program, inviting him to preach to the assembly. In 1890 the congress met in Cincinnati, with Elder encouraging the delegates to view their meeting as God’s work, proclaiming that they had gathered not chiefly “as a race but as members equal in the faith.”84

How Elder reconciled his family’s slaveholding past and his support for enslavement with his advocacy for African American Catholics is unclear. During his final two decades, in which he lived in the North, he stopped short of renouncing his entanglement with slavery, preferring to focus on the leaven of the Gospel, which he stated in 1889 had “ameliorated the conditions of the slaves” and eventually “obliterated the cruel institution.”85 This expression of slavery’s inherent cruelty—which would have been an unthinkable utterance during his boyhood in Maryland or his episcopal leadership in Mississippi—suggests a trajectory increasingly clear about slavery’s immorality. Such awareness, however, waited until after the institution was abolished and Elder was no longer in the South.


The Elder family’s participation in slavery was not static. The number of family members owning enslaved persons declined markedly from the 1820s through the 1850s. Many ended their practice of slaveholding before the nation outlawed slavery in 1865, but this did not require a reconsideration of slavery’s morality. Most of the Elders’ enslaved persons were sold to the west or south—since there are only a dozen known manumissions, most of which were in exchange for financial considerations or after an additional term of enslavement. No evidence suggests that the family believed their Catholic faith was inconsistent with slaveholding. The family’s turn from slavery was likely practical and economical. Especially in border regions, including Maryland and Kentucky, slaveholding diminished as planters became convinced of the benefits of a non-enslaved workforce.

The end of slavery, however, was not an end to race-based ideologies, as seen in the example of Bishop William Henry Elder. The Elder family’s long tradition of slaveholding—sustained across at least five generations amid slaveholding cultures in Maryland, Kentucky, and Louisiana—evidences the strength of the racial suppositions and economic advantage that supported the race-based, hereditary system. Yet, at the same time, a paternalism that could include concern for the spiritual and temporal well-being of bondspersons (as expressed within the confines of slavery) frequently accompanied the ideologies upholding the institution.

The Elder family is not unique in their intergenerational dependency on slavery. Further research of lay Catholics’ entanglement with slavery may uncover connections among communities of Catholic enslavers and enslaved persons, suggest when and why lay Catholics sold or manumitted their bondspeople, and even offer insights into enslaved persons’ religious education and sacramental reception. Record accessibility, primarily through digitization, is making such research possible. But even when records are fragmentary and conclusions tentative, efforts to reclaim the memory of persons who lay Catholics enslaved is a step toward a broader understanding of the Church in the antebellum period. That the Elder family was among the most prominent of early American Catholicism provides an impetus to document its connection to slavery and, in doing so, acknowledge an uncomfortable past attached to many colonial and early American family trees.86



Edward F. X. McSweeny and Mary M. Meline, The Story of the Mountain: Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland, 2 vols. (Emmitsburg, MD: Weekly Chronicle, 1911), 1:2, 9, 533.


Donnelly’s works include Maryland Elder Family and Kin: William Elder, 1707–1775, Emmitsburg, Md., Pioneer (Burke, VA: M. L. Donnelly, 1975); William Elder: Ancestors and Descendants (Burke, VA: M. L. Donnelly, 1986); Mary Louise Donnelly, William Elder Descendants (Revised Edition) (Ennis, TX: M. L. Donnelly, 2007). One attempt has been made by an Elder family genealogist to outline the family’s slaveholding: Louis Lehmann, “Indentured Servitude and Slavery in the Families of Guy Finch and Peter Hoggins,” undated [2018?], http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~genealogyaddict/family/guyfinchpeterhogginsarticle.html.


Donnelly, William Elder Descendants, 4, 11, 31, 96–98.


Michael D. Breidenbach proposes, “If America’s original sin was slavery, it was, like the Christian doctrine, passed down through the generations.” See Breidenbach, Our Dear-Bought Liberty: Catholics and Religious Toleration in Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2021), 110.


Clayton E. Jewett and John O. Allen, Slavery in the South (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press 2004), 141; Robert J. Brugger, Maryland: A Middle Temperament, 1634–1980 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 42–43.


Barbara Jeanne Fields, Slavery and Freedom on the Middle Ground: Maryland during the Nineteenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985), 1–22; Jewett and Allen, Slavery in the South, 140, 146–48.


Max L. Grivno, Gleanings of Freedom: Free and Slave Labor along the Mason-Dixon Line, 1790–1860 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2011), 11, 14–16, 38.


Grivno, Gleanings of Freedom, 70–79, 137–43; Seth Rockman, Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 59–60.


Maura Jane Farrelly, “American Slavery, American Freedom, American Catholicism,” Early American Studies 10, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 92–97.


Breidenbach, Our Dear-Bought Liberty, 142.


Beatriz Betancourt Hardy, “‘The Papists . . . have shewn a laudable Care and Concern’: Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Slave Religion in Colonial Maryland,” Maryland Historical Magazine 98, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 4–33.


Among the numerous studies of Jesuit slaveholding, see Adam Rothman and Elsa Barraza Mendoza, eds., Facing Georgetown’s History: A Reader on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2021); Thomas Murphy, S.J., Jesuit Slaveholding in Maryland, 1717–1838 (New York: Routledge, 2001).


Thomas R. Ulshafer, P.S.S., “Slavery and the Early Sulpician Community in Maryland,” U.S. Catholic Historian 37, no. 2 (Spring 2019): 18–20; Thomas A. Courtney, “Mount St. Mary’s and the American Civil War,” Analecta: Selected Studies in the History of Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary vol. 1, no. 5, series ed. Daniel C. Nusbaum (Emmitsburg, MD: Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, 2004), 3.


Farrelly, “American Slavery, American Freedom, American Catholicism,” 94–95.


See, for instance, discussion of the Carroll family’s slaveholding: Ronald Hoffman, Princes of Ireland, Planters of Maryland: A Carroll Saga, 1500–1782 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), 76, 105, 120, 237–46, 250–58; Lorena S. Walsh, Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607–1763 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 323–28, 549–54.


Donnelly, William Elder Descendants, 1–3.


Historian Benedict Joseph Webb believed that the Elder family was among the English recusants who were punished by the crown for their Catholic faith. See B. J. Webb, “Catholicity in Kentucky: The Elder Family of Maryland and Kentucky,” American Catholic Quarterly Review 5 (1880): 653–65. But some of the Elder family’s earliest members in America may not have been Catholic. See Grace L. Tracey and John P. Dern, Pioneers of Old Monocacy: The Early Settlement of Frederick County Maryland, 1721–1743 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1998), 253.


William Elder Estate Inventory, October 15, 1714, Prince George’s County, Maryland Orphans’ Court Inventories, Vol. BB, no. 1: 236, Prince George’s County Courthouse, Upper Marlboro, Maryland.


Solomon Stimson Estate Inventory, April 5, 1727, Prince George’s County, Maryland Orphans’ Court Inventories, Vol. PD, no. 1: 15, Prince George’s County Courthouse, Upper Marlboro, Maryland.


Solomon Stinson Will, January 9, 1726/7, probated January 26, 1726/7, Prince George’s County Orphans’ Court Wills, Vol. 1, page 162, Prince George’s County Courthouse, Upper Marlboro, Maryland.


Donnelly, William Elder Descendants, 2.


Peter Hoggins Will, July 30, 1774, probated June 20, 1775, Prince George’s County Orphans’ Court Wills, Vol. T (1): 19, Prince George’s County Courthouse, Upper Marlboro, Maryland.


Grivno, Gleanings of Freedom, 38, 40.


Peter Wilson Coldham, Settlers of Maryland, 1679–1783: Consolidated Edition (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing, 2002), 211.


Donnelly, William Elder Descendants, 14.


Donnelly, William Elder Descendants, 10–11; William Elder Will, April 18, 1773, probated May 23, 1776, Frederick County, Maryland, Wills, Book 41: 181–84, Maryland State Archives.


McSweeny and Meline, The Story of the Mountain, 1:2, 9; McSweeny and Meline, The Story of the Mountain, 2:101; “Sequel to Early Gravestones—Oldest Near Emmitsburg,” Frederick [MD] Post, March 7, 1972. This shell was deposited in the Archives and Department of Special Collections of Mount Saint Mary’s College and Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.


Aloysius Elder to Right Revd Sir [John Carroll], December 30, 1807, and Arnold Elder to Right Reverend Sir [John Carroll], January 26, 1808, cited in Donnelly, William Elder: Ancestors and Descendants, 9.


Arnold Livers Will, June 4, 1751, Prince George’s County Orphans’ Court Wills, Vol. 1: 442–43, Prince George’s County Courthouse, Upper Marlboro, Maryland.


Manumission of Joseph, owned by Elizabeth Brawner, April 20, 1812, recorded April 23, 1812, Frederick County, Maryland Land Records, Deed Book WR–42, 204–5.


See Jeffrey A. Duvall, “Frederick County Maryland Slave Manumissions 1748–1867” (2015), http://mdhmapping.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Frederick-County-Manumissions-1748–1867.pdf; Richard H. Smith Jr., “Manumission Deeds of Frederick County, Maryland, 1748–1865, Vols. 1 and 2 (2014, 2018), http://frederickroots.com/research.asp.


Donnelly, William Elder Descendants, 20; Arnold Elder, 1790 Federal Census, Frederick, Maryland, M637, roll 3, page 209; Arnold Elder, 1800 Federal Census, Emmitsburg, Frederick, Maryland, M32, roll 10, page 170.


Daniel C. Nusbaum, “This Venerable House: Part I: The Beginnings,” Analecta: Selected Studies in the History of Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, vol. 1, no. 3, series ed. Daniel C. Nusbaum (Emmitsburg, MD: Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary, 2003), 10–11.


Joe William Trotter Jr. and Eric Ledell Smith, eds., African Americans in Pennsylvania: Shifting Historical Perspectives (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), 42, 75, 221–22.


Charles Elder Will, May 10, 1804, probated June 26, 1804, Frederick County, Maryland Probate Records, Vol. GMRB-1, pages 33–34.


Donnelly, William Elder Descendants, 27; Mary Ann Montgomery, 1810 Federal Census, Washington, Kentucky, M252, roll 8, page 292.


Guy Elder Will, December 29, 1804, probated December 3, 1805, Frederick County, Maryland Probate Records, Vol. GMRB-1, pages 153–55.


Mary Lilly Will, June 8, 1795, probated May 1, 1797, Frederick County, Maryland Probate Records, Vol. GM, no. 3, pages 166–67.


Manumission of Harry and Jane, owned by Samuel Lilly, March 13, 1801, recorded February 11, 1803, Frederick County, Maryland Land Records, Deed Book WR-24, page 65.


Samuel Lilly Will, November 7, 1820, probated November 15, 1820, Frederick County, Maryland Probate Records, Vol. HS, no. 2, pages 406–7; Samuel Lilly Inventory, January 22, 1821, Frederick County, Maryland Probate Court Records, Book HS, no. 4, pages 459–62.


Donnelly, William Elder Descendants, 20–21.


Thomas Elder, Will Book G/1, Nelson County, Kentucky, pages 145–46 (will) and 227–28 (appraisal).


Richard Elder Will, January 25, 1814, probated April 25, 1814, Frederick County, Maryland Probate Records, Vol. RB-1, pages 499–501.


Nathaniel Elder, 1820 Federal Census, Election District 5, Frederick County, Maryland, M33, roll 43, page 144; Nathaniel Elder, 1830 Federal Census, Election District 5, Frederick County, Maryland, M19, roll 57, page 278; Donnelly, William Elder Descendants, 26.


Lewis Elder, 1830 Federal Census, Election District 5, Frederick County, Maryland, M19, roll 57, page 283; Lewis Elder, 1840 Federal Census, Election District 5, Frederick County, Maryland, M704, roll 166, page 6; Lewis Elder, 1850 Federal Census–Slave Schedules, Election District 5, Frederick County, Maryland, M432, roll 301, page 1.


Baptisms of Frances Scholastica [Dugan], February 13, 1826, and Samuel [Dugan], July 9, 1826, Mount St. Mary’s Parish, Emmitsburg, Frederick County, Parish Register, Baptisms 1815–1850, pages 9–10, Associated Archives at St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore, Maryland (hereafter AASMSU); marriage of Joseph Dugan and Diana [sic] Butler, April 17, 1825, Mount St. Mary’s Parish, Emmitsburg, Frederick County, Parish Register, Marriages 1820–1849, page 102, AASMSU.


Baptism of Isaac Thomas, June 2, 1833, Mount St. Mary’s Parish, Emmitsburg, Frederick County, Parish Register, Baptisms 1815–1850, pages 26–27, AASMSU; marriage of Alexander Thomas and Harriett Brisken, September 5, 1835, Mount St. Mary’s Parish, Emmitsburg, Frederick County, Parish Register, Marriages 1820–1849, pages 108–9, AASMSU.


Aloysius Elder Will, July 23, 1827, probated August 20, 1827, Frederick County, Maryland Probate Records, Vol. HS-3, pages 562–63.


Jacob Mehrling Holdcraft, Gravestones of Frederick County, Maryland, No. 5: Small Church and Family Cemeteries (Baltimore, 1958), 11, noted that a 1956 survey of the cemetery showed the presence of “outlines of unmarked graves” that “no doubt were those of children or family servants.”


See Helen W. Ridgely, Historic Graves of Maryland and the District of Columbia: With the Inscriptions Appearing on the Tombstones in Most of the Counties of the State and in Washington and Georgetown (New York: Grafton Press, 1908), 165; Entry for Ignatious Colbert, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/8095082/ignatious-colbert. The Emmitsburg parish records show an Ignatius Calvert, about ninety years old, who died December 5, 1838, and was buried at “Mt Elder’s.” There is no indication in this record of his race or whether enslaved or free. See Mount St. Mary’s Parish, Emmitsburg, Frederick County, Parish Register, Burials 1820–1849, pages 128–29, AASMSU.


Burial of Revd. M. James Linch [sic], November 14, 1828, Mount St. Mary’s Parish, Emmitsburg, Frederick County, Parish Register, Burials 1820–1849, page 121, AASMSU.


Ulshafer, “Slavery and the Early Sulpician Community in Maryland,” 2–3, 21, quote at 21.


The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Maryland and District of Columbia (Baltimore: National Biographical Publishing, 1879), 432; George W. Howard, Monumental City: Its Past History and Present Resources (Baltimore: J. D. Ehlers, 1873), 463.


Rockman, Scraping By, 27, 234.


Basil S. Elder, 1820 Federal Census, Ward 11, Baltimore, Maryland, M33, roll 42, page 441; Basil S. Elder, 1830 Federal Census, Ward 11, Baltimore, Maryland, M19, roll 54, page 419; Basil S. Elder, 1840 Federal Census, Ward 11, Baltimore, Maryland, M704, roll 161, page 235; Basil S. Elder, 1850 Federal Census, Ward 12, Baltimore, Maryland, M432, roll 285, page 260.


Manumission of Dolly Morgan, July 19, 1859, Certificates of Freedom, 1852–1865, Baltimore City Superior Court, C165–2, page 34, entry 3, http://slavery2.msa.maryland.gov/.


John C. Elder, 1860 Federal Census–Slave Schedules, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, M653, roll 427, page 43.


Manumission of Jane, May 2, 1833, Certificates of Freedom, 1806–1851, Baltimore County Court, C290–3, page 7, entry 1, http://slavery2.msa.maryland.gov/; Ulshafer, “Slavery and the Early Sulpician Community in Maryland,” 2–10, 20.


John F. Elder, 1860 Federal Census, Emmitsburg, Frederick, Maryland, M653, roll 474, page 156; Jno. F. Elder, 1860 Federal Census–Slave Schedules, Emmitsburg, Frederick, Maryland, M653, roll 484, page 5. The youngster in the Elder household may be a match to Charles Stanislaus Butler (recorded in the sacramental record as “nigrum”), the son of Augustine (a non-Catholic) and Anna Lee (a Catholic), who was baptized on December 3, 1848, at St. Joseph Church, Emmitsburg. His connection to the Elder family is unknown.


Jewett and Allen, Slavery in the South, 147.


Entry for Basil Elder, 1820 Federal Census, Ward 11, Baltimore, Maryland, M33, roll 42, page 441; entry for Basil S. Elder, 1830 Federal Census, Ward 11, Baltimore, Maryland, M19, roll 54, page 419; entry for Basil S. Elder, 1840 Federal Census, Ward 11, Baltimore, Maryland, roll 161, page 235; entry for Basil S. Elder, 1850 Federal Census, Ward 12, Baltimore, Maryland, roll 285, page 260a. Slave schedules cannot be located for Basil S. Elder in either 1850 or 1860, suggesting he may not have held slaves at that time.


Bishop Elder’s approach to slavery has not received much scholarly attention. For a short analysis, see James J. Pillar, The Catholic Church in Mississippi, 1837–1865 (New Orleans: Hauser Press, 1964), 172–77, and Cyprian Davis, O.S.B., The History of Black Catholics in the United States (New York: Crossroad, 1990), 43–46.


Baptisms of Mary Rose and Alexander Joseph Thomas, August 30, 1847, Mount St. Mary’s Parish, Emmitsburg, Frederick County, Parish Register, Baptisms 1815–1850, page 65, AASMSU.


William Ashley Vaughan, “Natchez During the Civil War” (PhD dissertation, University of Southern Mississippi, 2001), 253.


“Bishop William Elder of Natchez, MS, on Apostolate of the Negro, 1858,” in Kenneth J. Zanca, ed., American Catholics and Slavery, 1789–1866: An Anthology of Primary Documents (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), 236.


“Bishop William Elder of Natchez, MS, on Apostolate of the Negro, 1858,” 238.


William Henry Elder, Civil War Diary (1862–1865) of Bishop William Henry Elder Bishop of Natchez, ed. R. O. Gerow (Jackson, MS: R. O. Gerow, 1960), entry for December 14, 1862, 9; entry January 22, 1864, 73.


Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States, 44–45.


“Bishop William Elder of Natchez, MS, on Apostolate of the Negro, 1858,” 235–38.


William Henry Elder to Reverend J. M. Guillou, May 31, 1859, Correspondence, Archives of the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, cited in Vaughan, “Natchez During the Civil War,” 107.


“Bishop William Elder of Natchez, MS, on Apostolate of the Negro, 1858,” 237.


Elder to Father Francis Pont, January 2, 1862, Elder Letterbook VII, 283, Archives of the Diocese of Jackson, Mississippi, quoted in Willard E. Wight, “Bishop Elder and the Civil War,” Catholic Historical Review 44, no. 3 (October 1958): 298.


Augustin Verot, A Tract for the Times: Slavery and Abolitionism, Being the Substance of a Sermon Preached in the Church of St. Augustine, Florida, on the 4th Day of January 1861 (Baltimore, MD: John Murphy, 1861), in Zanca, American Catholics and Slavery, 201–9.


Pillar, The Catholic Church in Mississippi, 173, 176.


“Bishop William Elder of Natchez, MS, on Apostolate of the Negro, 1858,” 236.


Elder, Civil War Diary, August 4, 1863, 56–57.


Bishop William H. Elder, entry for October 10, 1863, Memorandum Book, September 18, 1863–February 24, 1864, RG 1.3, Archbishop William H. Elder Papers, ser. 1.3–13, Notebooks, box 1, Archives of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati; Elder, Civil War Diary, August 21, 1863–September 24, 1863, pages 61–65; Ryan Starrett, Mississippi Bishop William Henry Elder and the Civil War (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2019), 136, 139–42.


Bishop William Elder to Adolph Certes of the Society of the Propagation of the Faith (Paris), March 2, 1864, in R. O. Gerow, Cradle Days of St. Mary’s at Natchez (Natchez, MS: Hope Haven Press, 1941), 155–56; Ronald L. F. Davis, The Black Experience in Natchez, 1720–1880 (Denver: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Denver Service Center, 1993), 173–75.


Elder, Civil War Diary, August 15, 1863, 59; Starrett, Mississippi Bishop William Henry Elder and the Civil War, 119; Bishop William Elder to Archbishop John B. Purcell, September 14, 1863, II–5-b, Archdiocese of Cincinnati Collection (ACI), University of Notre Dame Archives, Notre Dame, Indiana (hereafter UNDA).


Bishop William Henry Elder to Archbishop John Mary Odin, C.M., May 13, 1866, VI–2-k, UNDA.


See Stephen J. Ochs, Desegregating the Altar: The Josephites and the Struggle for Black Priests, 1871–1960 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990), 40, 59, quote at 59.


McSweeny and Meline, The Story of the Mountain, 1:533.


Joseph Lackner, S.M., “St. Ann’s Colored Church and School, Cincinnati, the Indian and Negro Collection for the United States, and Reverend Francis Xavier Weninger, S.J.,” U.S. Catholic Historian 7, nos. 2–3 (Spring/Summer 1988): 150–55.


Gary B. Agee, A Cry for Justice: Daniel Rudd and His Life in Black Catholicism Journalism and Activism 1854–1933 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011), 20–21, 56, 142, 152–53; Joseph H. Lackner, S.M., “The American Catholic Tribune: No Other Like It,” U.S. Catholic Historian 25, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 8; Three Catholic Afro-American Congresses (Cincinnati: American Catholic Tribune, 1893), 93–94; Roger Fortin, Faith and Action: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 1821–1996 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2002), 239–41.


“Eloquent Sermon by Archbishop Elder,” January 2, 1889, Washington, DC, in Three Catholic Afro-American Congresses, 47–50, quote at 48. What survives is only a summary of Elder’s sermon, but we can presume it is faithful to his words.


See, for example, Maureen O’Connell, Undoing the Knots: Five Generations of American Catholic Anti-Blackness (Boston: Beacon Press, 2022).