This site presents data created by Georgetown University historians, archivists, librarians and students implementing the On These Grounds project. This team have examined archival collections held by the Booth Family Center for Special Collections at Georgetown University that document slavery. For each event involving enslaved individuals, these researchers have created a record of the people, places, dates, and other information described in an archival document to create a searchable database for scholars, students, and genealogists. This site is designed to enable researchers to search by name, location, and event type to find documents that reveal the experiences of enslaved individuals whose lives have been obscured in documents created by their enslavers.

This site is a test site. It currently contains only a portion of the data being created for the project. We hope to release a fuller site later this year with additional data, improved display, and enhanced search functionality. We are looking for feedback from users.

What is On These Grounds?

“On These Grounds” is a multi-institutional project funded by the Mellon Foundation that is attempting to create a descriptive model to provide a common method for universities that are now examining their historic role in perpetuating slavery to collect, organize, and describe data held in their rich archival holdings. Instead of centering description on the creators of documents, this method places enslaved people at center by describing the events involving enslaved people. A team of historians, archivists, librarians, and digital humanists are creating a common vocabulary to describe the events that can be applied to institutional records and personal papers that document the activities of enslaved people. These terms will in turn be used to create records of each event that includes full citations with links to supporting finding aids, transcripts, and digital reproductions. 

The interdisciplinary team is led by Sharon Leon, Ph.D., Associate Professor of American History at the University of Michigan; Brenda Gunn, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections and Preservation at the University of Virginia Librarians; and Harriette Hemmasi, Dean of the Georgetown University Library. We have recruited the following institutional partners to help test the model: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ; Washington & Lee University, Lexington, VA; Hampden-Sydney College, Sydney, VA: University of Georgia, Athens.

Booth Family Center for Special Collections

The Booth Family Center for Special Collections is the repository for the Georgetown University Archives (GUA), the Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus (MPA), the Holy Trinity Church Archives (HTCA) and manuscripts created by individual priests and Catholic families. These records document slavery at Georgetown College in the District of Columbia and on plantations in Southern Maryland that financially supported Jesuit educational institutions. 

The On These Grounds team has selected items from this corpus that reveal the diversity of events that involve enslaved people. The Jesuits were not merely overseers over enslaved people, but they also expected them to practice Catholicism. The events described on this site come from a wide array of sources: sacramental records documenting the participation of free and enslaved Blacks in rites that marked life events; transactional records related to the slave trade, the largest of these the sale of 1838 that helped pay off the debts at Georgetown; financial accounts that note the purchase of provisions for enslaved people and the hiring out of enslaved persons; and letters and diaries that note resistance to slavery and other aspects of daily life.

The Booth Family Center for Special Collections is working with Digital Services on projects to digitize nineteenth-century records from the MPA and the Georgetown College Financial Records. The sacramental records of the Holy Trinity Church are accessible on Digital Georgetown.

Digital Projects

We are building upon the work of faculty, students, descendants, and other researchers who have explored Georgetown’s relationship to slavery. Since 2016,  Professor Adam Rothman of the Georgetown History Department and his former student Elsa Barrazza Mendoza, now a Professor of History at Middlebury College, have maintained the Georgetown Slavery Archive, an Omeka site that brings together transcripts and digital reproductions of documents from the GUA, MPA, and other sources that inform the discourse on slavery and its legacy at Georgetown.  

The Jesuit Plantations Project, a digital humanities project begun by Professor Sharon Leon of the History Department of Michigan State University, is a source of data for biographical data and location descriptions. An alumnus of Georgetown, Professor Leon is using data initially compiled for the Jesuit Plantations Project established by the American Studies Department in the mid-1990s.


The On These Grounds Project team is grateful to the Corporation of Roman Catholic Clergymen and the Holy Trinity Catholic Church for giving us permission to use respectively the Archives of the Maryland Province and the Holy Trinity Church Archives on this site. 

The Mellon Foundation and Georgetown University have provided funding.