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Washington, D.C., History Resources

A guide to the local history resources available on the District of Columbia.

Jesuits in Washington

Archives of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, 1630-1985 (finding aids: Archives of the Maryland ProvinceMaryland Province Collection)

The Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus established Georgetown College in 1789, in the city settled by many of the elite Catholic descendants of the Maryland colony. The documents within this collection establish the interdependence of the District of Columbia and its urban economy with the surrounding plantations that depended upon enslaved labor. Washington and Alexandria were the setting for much of the drama of the sale of 1838: traders from those cities kept the enslaved people in its holding pens and transported them to Louisiana. Commonly referred to as the Maryland Province Archives (MPA), this collection holds papers documenting real estate and capital transactions involving Georgetown College, missionary work in Washington and Alexandria, the founding of preparatory schools such as the Washington Seminary (later Gonzaga College), and sectarian controversies between the Jesuits and local Protestant churches including the miraculous cure of Ann Mattingly from terminal cancer in 1824.

Archives of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, 1793-1982 (finding aids: part 1part 2Digital Georgetown)

Founded in 1787, Holy Trinity Catholic Church located in Georgetown on 36th Street, NW, between N and O Streets, has an intrinsic relationship with Georgetown University, as several of its professors and students have ministered to that parish. During the antebellum period, its membership included the enslaved and free Black members of the neighboring community, some of them laborers at Georgetown College. The Holy Trinity sacramental records reveal an active network of Black women who nurtured the religious ties of their families, including Anne Maria Becraft (1805-1833).  Black people remained a significant part of the congregation of Holy Trinity Church after emancipation. In 1923, Black parishioners left Holy Trinity; in 1925, they founded Epiphany Catholic Church in located at 2712 Dumbarton Street, NW.

Joseph P. Mobberly, SJ Papers, 1815-1827 (finding aidDigital Georgetown)

Joseph P. Mobberly, S.J. (1779-1827) devoted himself exclusively to teaching at Georgetown College after 1820. During his tenure at Georgetown, he recorded his remembrances, observations, and notes mostly concerning his previous 15-year tenure as plantation manager at St. Inigoes and a Biblical justification for slavery. He also recounts his experiences in the District of Columbia including topics such as student discipline, the heroic reception of Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette during his 1824 visit, the impact of the boll weevil infestation on local agriculture, and spiritual phenomena.

Selected Papers of John McElroy, SJ, 1807-1878 (finding aids: John McElroy, SJ PapersMaryland Province ArchivesDigital Georgetown)

BFCSC holds the diaries, financial journals, pastoral records, and other papers of the the Irish-born John McElroy, S.J. (1782-1877), who played a key role in the early years of Georgetown College, the foundation of the novitiate at Frederick, and the establishment of a Jesuit presence in Boston. While he was stationed at Georgetown and Frederick, he ministered to Black people, both enslaved and free. The most compelling document is his diary dated 1813-1821 which contains accounts of the burning of Washington, his attempts to recapture a runaway Isaac in January 1814, transactions involving enslaved people, and the school for Black people established at Holy Trinity in 1819.

Horace B. McKenna, SJ, Papers, 1899-1982 (finding aids: part 1, part 2Oral History Project Collection

Horace B. McKenna, SJ, (1899-1982) worked tirelessly among the Black Catholics of Southern Maryland and Washington, DC. After arriving at St. Aloysius Church on Capitol Hill in 1953, McKenna became one of the most important social reformers in the city. He founded So Others Might Eat (SOME), a soup kitchen and employment center; Martha's Table, a soup kitchen and child education center; House of Ruth, a center for homeless women. He also advocated for the Sursum Corda Cooperative, a housing project developed in the late 1960s. The collection includes correspondence related to this work in addition to his work with Black Catholics in Ridge, Maryland, between 1932 and 1953. In addition, there are transcripts of oral history interviews used by Joseph Hines in his book Christ Is with the Poor: Stories and Sayings of Horace McKenna, S.J. (1989).


David Rankin Barbee Papers, 1886-1956 (Bulk Dates: 1928-1956) (finding aid)

The papers of David Rankin Barbee (born 1874 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; died 1958 in Orange, Texas) consist of the correspondence, research papers, and publications of a journalist and federal public relations officer who wrote essays on Civil War and Reconstruction for newspapers, magazines, and journals published by genealogical and local history societies. Barbee regarded himself as an "unreconstructed" Southerner and popularized racist interpretations of Reconstruction in his newspaper columns, including several disputing the authorship of Behind the Scenes, a memoir written by Elizabeth Keckley, the free Black seamstress with a close relationship to Mary Lincoln. 

Crawford Family Papers, 1812-1896 (finding aid)

The family papers of a prominent Georgetown family, this collection This collection is replete with references to sites in the Georgetown neighborhood and prominent Washingtonians. It includes Richard Crawford's correspondence with the Board of Aldermen during his tenure as Mayor of Georgetown between 1857 and 1858, financial instruments and legal documents including deed issued upon the sale of enslaved people owned by the family, and correspondence.

Robert Fergusson Papers, 1717-1810 (Bulk: 1784-1810) (finding aids part 1, part 2)

Robert Fergusson (d. 1811) was a factor who established a Georgetown store for the John Glassford Company, a Scottish mercantile firm based in Glasgow that, during its most prosperous years before the American Revolution, controlled a major portion of the Chesapeake tobacco trade. His papers are comprised principally of the correspondence between Fergusson and Alexander Hamilton (d. 1799), a tobacco factor who represented Glassford Company at a Piscataway store. The Library of Congress Manuscript Division holds the letter books of Fergusson and Hamilton in the John Glassford and Company records, 1743-1886, which includes the letter books of Robert Fergusson and Alexander Hamilton. 

F. Don Nidiffer Collection of Washington, D.C., Legal Documents, 1817-1886 (finding aid)

This collection consists of 741 documents of commercial transactions in Georgetown, Washington City, and Washington County, including 600 deeds. These papers provide information on household furnishings and consumption, deeds conveying land including some of the agricultural estates, and financial instruments.

University Archives

Georgetown College Financial Records: Vault Collection, 1791-1950 (finding aidDigital Georgetown)

The Georgetown College Financial Records: Vault Collection consists of 200 volumes that detail the business affairs of Georgetown College from the 1790s through the early 1900s.  

The transactions in these records document the College's participation in urban slavery, including the ownership of enslaved people, either acquired by purchase or transfer; slave provisions; the hiring of enslaved people for specific tasks or terms with wages usually paid to their owners; wages paid to free Blacks; the accounts of students, many of whom were District residents; and transactions with neighboring merchants. Even after the Maryland Jesuits sold the enslaved people they held in 1838, Georgetown College continued to utilize enslaved labor, in part by paying local slaveholders and hiring the men and women they held. The last enslaved person to work on campus appears to have been Aaron Edmonson who left in March 1862, just weeks before President Abraham Lincoln signed the District Compensated Emancipation Act, which provided for the freedom of all enslaved people working in the District and compensated loyal slave owners for the loss of their property. 

A project to digitize this collection is underway and a number of volumes can be viewed via DigitalGeorgetown. It is possible to identify volumes that include transactions involving enslaved people by using a keyword search for term “enslaved” on both the finding aid and Digital Georgetown.

Philodemic Society Archives, 1830-onward (finding aid, Digital Georgetown)

Georgetown’s debate society, the Philodemic Society, was founded in 1830.  A survey of debate topics and the results of those debates, both of which are listed in the volumes of proceedings (known as amanuensis books), highlight student attitudes on a variety of issues of national import, including slavery. Researchers should note that the Society continued to debate issues related to race and the legacy of slavery after the end of the Civil War.

Student Publications

The Georgetown University Archives has maintained and provide access to the entire run of student newspapers published at Georgetown. These are important sources for D.C. history, as the students voice their concerns with municipal concerns. Georgetown students also have impacted the history of the city, most evidently during the civil rights and student movements of the 1960s. Physical copies of all of these newspapers are available at the Booth Family Center for Special Collections.

Georgetown College Journal, 1872-1920 (Digital Georgetown)

The College Journal was the first printed newspaper produced by Georgetown students. A monthly publication, it is a combination of student newspaper, literary publication, and alumni bulletin. The printing of letters and reminiscences from “Old Boys” extends its coverage of campus life and events to well before the Civil War. Athletics received extensive coverage, with recurring Athletics notes that provided rosters and scores beginning in the late 1880s. Musical and dramatic performances by students or visiting groups are given regular coverage in its pages.

The Hoya Archives, 1920-present (1920-1940 and 1959-1980: Digital Georgetown; September 1998-current: The Hoya site)

Since 1920, The Hoya has been the student newspaper of record that reported on campus news, including administrative decisions, cultural and athletic events, and student activities. It is a good source for changing student perspectives over time, including their reaction to national and local events, their participation in social movements, and the intellectual and political debates on campus.

The Georgetown Voice, 1969-present (January 2001-current: The Georgetown Voice)

Founding in 1969, The Voice was founded to expand upon the coverage that The Hoya provided on the Vietnam War and other social and political issues. The Voice's features tend to be more in-depth with cultural commentary than the articles covering everyday life in The Hoya.

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