26. 37th and O Street

37th and O Street NW
Photo by Bob Rives

Isaac Hawkins Hall, Georgetown University

Built in 1832, ​Isaac Hawkins Hall was originally called, Mulledy Hall after ​Georgetown University ‘s President Rev. Thomas F. Mulledy. S.J. It was renamed Freedom Hall in 2017​ after student protests and rededicated as Isaac Hawkins Hall in 2018. Today the building’s name honors the first entry on a bill of sale, “Isaac.” Isaac Hawkins was born about 1773. By 1838, the year of the sale, Hawkins, 65 years old, had most of his family sold and sent to Louisiana. The story of the debt and sale of slaves to finance the debt follows. Georgetown took on massive debt in a moment of crucial growth, in part to build Gervase and Mulledy (Mulledy built for $12,000). But an economic collapse in 1837 made it all but impossible that the school would pay back the borrowed funds on its own. Mulledy’s debt arrangement soured with the economy and his creditor’s relationship with the Jesuits (the creditor had planned to join the order and forgive the loan, but changed his mind), leaving the College in dire financial straits. By 1837, Mulledy and William McSherry, then the provincial in Maryland, feared that Georgetown would have to be shuttered if the Jesuits could not round up about 20,000 dollars. In 1836, McSherry and Mulledy prevailed on Rome to approve a slave sale (although McSherry had been selling slaves in smaller batches all along). The Superior General placed three conditions on the sale which were never honored: That the slaves’ “religious needs be met, that families not be separated, especially spouses, and that the money be invested for the support of Jesuits in training.” In 1837, the American economy collapsed. As the value of slaves rebounded after the panic of 1838, Mulledy and McSherry negotiated the sale of the vast majority of the Society’s remaining slaves—272 in all—to Henry Johnson, a planter and former governor of Louisiana who had earlier purchased slaves from McSherry and had a nephew at Georgetown, for 115,000 dollars. Mulledy and McSherry secured a down payment of 25,000 dollars. At the time, Georgetown’s debts amounted to roughly 24,000 dollars—a sum Mulledy immediately loaned to Georgetown (in contravention of Rome’s conditions) upon receipt of Johnson’s payment. The sale marked the culmination of the idea that money from the plantations, including from the direct sale of slaves, would support Georgetown College—an idea as old as the university and well documented in the records of the Maryland Jesuits. The plantations’ spectacular failure to produce beyond their expenses largely prevented the operation of this scheme, but by the 1830s both cash and produce from the farms flowed to Georgetown at a brief time of transformative growth for the university. And when Georgetown College’s equally expansive debts (Mulledy, Curran claims, was a rather poor money manager) threatened the closure of the school, money, direct from the down payment on the 1838 sale, filled the gap. The numbers are too close to be coincidental; 24,000 thousand dollars from a 25,000 dollar down payment negotiated by Mulledy was loaned to the College, whose debts stood then at about 23,800 dollars. The previous year, Mulledy had warned McSherry that if the society could not find about twenty thousand dollars, the Province might have to shutter Georgetown. A general scramble to find sources of revenue for the college—which wrangled with Rome in the early 1830s for permission to charge tuition. The sale of 272 people from the farms in Maryland made Georgetown’s survival real; otherwise, it is not clear whether the school could have survived.

(Source: Matthew Quallen)