Activating Derived Historical Data in a Digital Environment

[This post is the third in a series of project updates about my work on the Jesuit Plantation Project, adapted from the talks I’m giving this spring at Northeastern University and at the Organization of American Historians meeting. If you haven’t yet, you might want to read the post about the 1838 sale, and the post on the importance of marriage and families to the Jesuits.]

After having spent significant time with the bulk of the rest of Maryland Province Archives and a number of key related collections this fall, I am in the process of creating a derived (meso-level) data set that will yield some significant findings about the lives of this particular community of enslaved people. Eventually, based on these relationships, I am going to build some kind of macro visualization entry point to this community that will allow both scholars and members of the interested public to get a sense of the whole community over time. In contrast to the approach that an individual genealogist or descendant might take to the materials, I am working to understand the community as a whole across all the Jesuit-owned farms during the period before the major sale in 1838. In addition to the traditional historical methods of archival research, I am using linked data, digital visualizations, and perhaps social network analysis to provide both a micro and macro view of the community and its experiences.

Having combed through these materials, I have extracted every instance of an event involving an enslaved person and I am in the process of building a linked open data repository that includes those events and the people involved in them. This network of communities includes enslaved people owned by the Jesuits, enslaved people owned by non-Jesuits, free people of color, and a cast of white people, Jesuit and non-Jesuit, who are party to these events (1730-1840). While my research continues and I expect things to shift as I go forward, at the moment I have isolated roughly 1081 individuals (32 free people of color, 30 owned by non-Jesuits). Together these individuals are participants in over 1,700 events, including life cycle events, religious events, material provisions, health incidents, travel, labor and economic transactions, and inheritance, sales, or manumission transactions.

The assembly of this data set has involved the hand processing of information out of document transcriptions into rectangular data. For each individual enslaved person in the records, I created a row with a unique identifier. I then worked to establish kinship relationships. Finally, though many of these individuals have the same first name and no last name, I undertook a painstaking process of deduplicating and disambiguating the individuals by triangulating among pieces of documentary evidence that included key indicators about location, year of birth, and family connections.

In addition to establishing the kinship networks, I am in the process of working through a set of event types that represent each appearance of an enslaved person in the records. These types include: birth, baptism, marriage, death, inventory, health, sale, legal, labor, commerce, conditions, travel, punishment, run away. For each event, I have extracted key details of the event, the date, event participants, and a link to the digitized copy of the document itself when it is available. Again, I have formed this information as rectangular data.

The ultimate goal for all of that rectangular data was for it to be imported into Omeka S. Omeka S is designed to make it easy to create and publish linked data. In preparation for that import, I created three resource templates that represented the data model for my content types (people, events, and locations). Resource templates can be formed by selecting properties from any existing linked data schema. My templates combine properties from Dublin Core, Friend of a Friend, Bio, Relationship, and Schema. Having created the templates, I was able to import the entire universe of people using the CSV Import plugin to map their details to the appropriate LOD property in the template. Then, I used their unique IDs and Omeka S IDs to build the relationship links networking them to family members, Jesuits, and external related individuals.

Sickness and Health

In reconstructing these essential relationships, one can get lost in the minutia of the data. But of course there are other important clues about the shape of everyday life for enslaved people who were owned by the Maryland Jesuits from some of the earliest records. These records offer a general sense of both the provisions made for the enslaved community for clothing and food, but also of the ways that they may have capitalized on those conditions to improve their own situation within a modest local economy.

In the midst of the everyday rhythms of labor and family there is the inescapable presence of illness and mortality. The birth and inventory records for the enslaved communities are marked by frequent strikes through, indicating the death of a child and/or her mother soon after birth.

In some cases the specter of death stands out as unusually tragic. For example, George (6122) and Flora (6123) appear in the records at Newtown during the 1780s. Together they have seven children, three of whom died in 1790. Since those children did not die on the same day, it is unlikely that they were struck by a tragic accident like a fire.
The more reasonable explanation is that they were beset by a contagious illness. The account book from Bohemia offers a clue to what that illness might have been. In February 1791, Robert Molyneax reported an inoculation, likely for small pox: “Twenty of Negro’s inoculated by Doctor Wm. Matthews… — N.B. That others might not take the infection; I send a part of those, who were inoculated, to the Quarter near Warwick: & the rest to the Quarter at St. Inigo’s.” [1]

More common on the Western shore, however, was malarial fever, which was frequently so rampant that it detracted from productive farming. In October 1806, Ignatius Brooke, the manager at Newtown, wrote to Francis Neale: “We have still 4 sick grown hands & 2 are employed in attending them, It is a comfort yr. they are all convalescents, & there are no new cases in the family. All my plans & endeavours have been marred & frustrated by the sickness.” [2] Newtown was not the only farm hindered by this kind of illness.

In considerations about where to locate the novitiate in 1812, Mobberly rejected the fact that St. Inigo’s was an unhealthy spot—despite being plagued by regular bouts of malarial fever. Nonetheless, his wide ranging account of the deaths at that site between 1806 and 1812 is rather remarkable:

Father Spink and Bro Magan both died with the consumption which was confirmed upon them at the college prior to their going to St. Inigo’s. – John Williams an apprentice to Br Baron was a long time sick at the College- carried the slow fever, of the causes of it, with him to St. Inigo’s and died in a few days after his arrival. – Geo. Williams our overseer died with a sort of galloping consumption attended with some symptoms of the slow fever- He was considered as an unsound man before he went on the farm, with which circumstance I was not acquainted when I engaged him.- Old Billy laboring about three years under a complaint which Physicians called fistula in ano, at length died being about 65 years old. James Ritchie a Scotchman died with old age, being about 83 years old.- Old Sucky died with old age, being 96 years old according to the family record, tho’ she often told me she was more than 100.- Old Mathew also died with old age, being 99 years and 6 months old, tho’ he often said he was much older.- Little Sucky having been troubled with fits 3 or 4 years, at length fell twice into the fire, was most shockingly burnt and died a few days after.- Betsy, the Blacksmith’s wife died in childbed with twins, of which she could not possibly be delivered, tho’ every exertion was made by 2 physicians and a midwife.-

These 9 deaths are all that happened on the farm in a family of about 55 persons, during the 6 years I lived on it, and I leave it to the judgment of the candid, whether their deaths were occasioned by the climate or not. The most prevalent sickness on that farm is a slight touch of the ague and fever, which never lasts more than a few days. I have always been successful in curing it with an emetic on a purgative even without the bark- It always originates at the quarters and scarcely ever appears at the house.[3]

In this last statement, Mobberly hints at the vulnerability of the enslaved to these more common illnesses, given the their living conditions.

Additional evidence of regular doctors visits to the farms appears within the account books. For example, the records from St. Thomas Manor show a medical account that includes twelve visits to farm from the doctor for “negroes” between October 1821 and November 1822. Most of the information about treatment is vague, but there is notation for a venesection (drawing of blood) for a young girl at the end of March, followed up by two more visits.[4] Similar account records appear periodically at the other sites right up until the point of the major sale in 1838.

Of course, not all of the medical issues were routine, nor were they all relatively mild. In addition to the small pox epidemic in the early 1790s, Maryland was ravaged by a typhoid epidemic in 1827-1828, and the Jesuits and their enslaved people did not escape unscathed. Francis Neale, SJ, who managed St. Thomas’s for decades reported that upon returning from his 1827 Christmas duties in Cobneck, he found, “that our family here had meet with severe chastisements. – a young married women had died, five men were confined with sickness as also six women, and five children. To two of these women I give the holy oils last night, their exit from this world is daily expected. Our quarters are condemned & must be destroyed by fire in the beginning of spring. – our prospects are dreadful and I am obliged to have recourse to the ordinary means to carry on business in the family.”[5]

Beset by sickness, the enslaved community at St. Thomas suffered not only the illness and death of their friends and family members. They also faced the destruction of their homes. In the meantime, Neale hired help to continue the work of the farm. The further hardship of having to destroy and rebuild the slave quarters only compounded the difficulties of supporting the needs of the entire community. For the Jesuits, who were already in a state of constant financial distress, the epidemic was yet another sign that they needed to end their participation in slavery and turn their farms over to tenants.

Family Trees

Despite regular bouts of sickness, punctuated by grave outbreaks of contagion, the enslaved communities that resided on the Jesuit plantations demonstrated some considerable stability. One cannot escape the fact that these farms were filled with extensive family networks, despite the specter of possible separation that enslavement entailed. Of the records available in the MPA and related collections, the sacramental records and various inventories are revealing. While baptism, marriage, and burial records exist for most sites, they do not cover all locations or the full time period between 1717 and 1838. Nonetheless, the records that do exist serve as a basis to map out the family and kinship networks that were formed and sustained among this community of enslaved people.

In establishing baseline information for each of the enslaved individuals, the records reveal 133 birth events, with the earliest occurring in 1730. There are also 80 documented baptisms between 1750 and 1833. From these records and other related inventories, I have been able to uncover or impute birth event data for 552 individuals. Unfortunately, the end of life data is much less full, with direct or imputed points of death for only 54 individuals.

Furthermore, the records show 208 people in some type of spousal partnership: as parents to a child, participants in a marriage ceremony, or listings in an inventory as part of a couple. Of those people, 35 have a partner who is not owned by the Jesuits (a free person of color, or an enslaved person owned by someone else). Most of these couples are identified with one child in the records, and I have at least one parent for 391 children. Interestingly, there are only 12 documented marriage ceremonies, clustered between 1813 and 1835. Despite the relatively slim documentation of sacramental marriages, it is clear from individual correspondence that the marriage bond and the family unit attracted more attention from the Jesuits than other issues related to the enslaved community.

The stories of individual families are compelling, and they lead us to larger questions. Multi-generational families are present from the 1750s onward. These families suggest a fairly good deal of stability in these communities over time. Family tree visualizations offer a readily recognizable way to grasp the growth and connection overtime of the extensive kinship networks within the community. But, they do only offer us the ability to concentrate on one family at a time.

Isaac and Susanna Hawkins’s Family

Isaac Hawkins’s family is perhaps the best known of the whole enslaved community, due to his prominent place in the sale census document, and Georgetown University’s decision to rename Mulledy Hall after him. In addition to the members of the family who are present in the census document, I have identified Isaac’s wife Susanna Queen, but they were married in 1823, which brings into question whether she is the mother of his children. I have also identified Charles’s wife, Cecilia, and their daughter Anna. Also, Patrick Hawkins had a first relationship with a woman named Kitty, before he was with Letty, who is named as his partner in the census. Nelly is married to Peter Adamy, who lives off White Marsh, and Cornelius is Nelly’s child, not one of Patrick and Letty’s children.

Tony and Henrietta’s Family

Residents of Newtown, Tony and Henrietta have a family that spans four generations. The Plowden branch of the family appears in the 1838 sale documents. Some of the children are married to people who reside off Newtown. Also, they are connected by marriage to another multi-generational family on the plantation.

Harry and Dina’s Family

Also residences of Newtown, Harry and Dina’s family, spans three generations and is connected to other families. In particular, they are tied to Tony and Henrietta’s family through the marriage of Rosanne and Jarret. The joining of these families through marriage begins to gesture at the density of networks that exist on these farms.

Social Network Analysis

One way to explore those possibilities is through the application of social network analysis techniques and visualizations, which are borrowed primarily from biology, sociology, and political science. It makes sense in beginning our exploration with these tools to keep in mind some questions about their appropriate application to historical data:

  • What does it mean to apply social network analysis measures to a community that is bounded and has very little control over their inclusion/movement?
  • With a significantly incomplete data set, what is the threshold at which social network analysis makes sense?
  • What are the appropriate visualizations to provide an entry point to this medium-sized collection of data?

For example, placing all of the connections among the individuals who resided at Newtown into an SNA tool, we get a visualization that is suggestive, but not deeply helpful. We can see a density of connections, but then we should have lots of questions about the nodes that are not connected, because of the incompleteness of our source base. Just because I don’t have a documented connection for that person does not mean that person was without significant kinship ties – we just don’t have the evidence. So, we are left with the task of finding new ways to, as Thomas Padilla has suggested, “engage absence” in our data.[6]

Furthermore, the math that undergirds SNA means that the calculations are only useful as a comparative figure. Thus, we need a good basis for defining and framing those comparisons. With this data set, we have stable and reliable data about where individuals lived, but we have much less reliable data about who was present at what point in time. We are missing birth and death events for half of the people means it is difficult to sort them in to generations for slicing by time. The range of kinds of records offer inconsistent data – the inventories just suggest that this person was in this place at this point and time. In some cases these people are described in relationship to other people, also mostly without birth or death records.

So, we can slice the data set by place, but much less reliably by generation. Running the calculations for the networks by location for the entire period (1730-1840) provides the following results:

Place Density Average Degree Average Path Length
White Marsh-Fingale [Nodes=285] 0.006 1.775 1.987
St. Thomas-Port Tobacco [Nodes=167] 0.011 1.808 1.671
Newtown [Nodes=189] 0.012 2.317 4.061
St. Inigoe’s [Nodes=220] 0.002 0.409 1.619
Bohemia [Nodes=102] 0.005 0.49 1.107
St. Joseph’s [Nodes=37] 0.267 1.33 1.429
Georgetown [Nodes=27] 0.008 0.214 1

Generally, the density calculations (number of connections in relation to all of the possible connections for the network) are low, because the communities have lots and lots of isolated points. Newtown has a good cluster of highly connected people (remember Tony & Retta, and Dina & Harry’s families), but there are still many isolated people outside that cluster. The same is true for St. Thomas-Port Tobacco. What we cannot see is that density of connections at that site are mostly from the late 18th Century and much less evident in the 19th Century.

I would love to know if these communities are more dense and more complete than other enslaved communities, which they might be given the Jesuits’ focus on sacramental marriage. But, if these figures are really useful for comparison purposes, I may simply have to run them and share them in hopes that other scholars will be willing to do the work on other enslaved communities to make the work of comparison possible. I’m not going to recreate Herbert Gutman’s family data, but someone could and should.

1. Records of Bohemia, 1790-1799, 1791-02-22, Maryland Province Collection [GTM.Gamms53] (Box 1, Folder 1) 4.
2. Letter Ignatius Brooke to Francis Neale, 1806-10-26, MPA (Box 57.5, Folder 13).
3. Letter, Mobberly to Grassi, Summer 1812, MPA (Box 57.5, Folder 3),
4. Letter, Neale to Joseph H. Lancaster, 1821-1822, MPA (Box 15, Folder 17).
5. Letter, Neale to Dzierozynski, 1827-01-09, MPA (Box 62, Folder 13).
6. Thomas Padilla, “Engaging Absence,” Thomas Padilla,

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