The Farm, Georgetown Observatory, c. 1900-1910
The remains of old Georgetown College paint a misleading picture. Healy, Old North, Dahlgren, Freedom, Gervase: together they propose the image of a neat quadrangle. But they weren’t the only buildings there. Georgetown, as it does now, relied on an encasing set of outbuildings. Black women, as many as a dozen at a time, perhaps free, perhaps slaves owned by local owners, worked in a college wash-house.
The outbuilding with which we most associate slave life at Georgetown is the “farm.” The farm probably lay about where the observatory now stands, and may have been where slaves would quarter, cultivate and—should they perish before returning to the plantations in Maryland—be buried. The site today—straddled by Yates and the aging telescope—bears little obvious trace of life there. Financial records indicate that the total number of slaves at Georgetown College at any given time was likely small, a handful. But slavery on campus was not limited to the farm and persisted after the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved to finance the College. . Slavery at Georgetown included slaves that would not appear in vital records because the college rented them from local slaveholders rather than owning them outright. The university relied on contractors when constructing most buildings, further obscuring the question of slave presence on campus.
But they were here, and the farm remains a site likely central to slave life, even if marginal to the geography of campus.
(Source: Matthew Quallen)