Seven years ago, journalist, author, and professor Rachel L. Swarns started a national conversation with her writing by exposing Georgetown University’s ties to slavery. In 1838, 272 enslaved people were sold by a group of American priests to save the country’s first Roman Catholic institution of higher learning—what is now Georgetown University—from financial ruin. But this decision would do more than save the college. “Without the enslaved, the Catholic Church in the United States as we know it today would not exist,” Swarns argues in The 272, her doggedly researched account of that shameful event.
Swarns’ third book illustrates how the Church benefited from slave labor by following the Mahoneys, one of the enslaved families who suffered as a result of those sins. She begins with their matriarch, Ann Joice, who sailed to Maryland in the late 1600s as a free woman only to be enslaved by the Jesuit priests. The author then shows how that miscarriage of justice led to Joice’s descendents being put up for sale a century and a half later. The 272 is an unflinching condemnation of the Catholic Church’s past and a long overdue eulogy for those who are long gone but should never be forgotten. —Shannon Carlin
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