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Fenwick History: Who were the persons Fenwick owned?

Slaves owned by Edward Fenwick

George, Dick, Ned, Steph, and Frank worked John Waller’s grist mill on Cartwright’s Creek in central Kentucky. Giney, Susan, and Celia tended the garden. In 1805 Waller sold his property, including his slaves, to Edward Fenwick. Fenwick soon owned nineteen people.

Unnamed master and slave (from Springfield near St. Rose); St. Rose Priory (1807), original St. Rose Church (1812) and St. Rose addition (1852); millstone used by St. Rose slaves

The winter of 1807 Fenwick decided to sell a slave named Sixtus, along with an old horse. But Fenwick could not get a good price for either. Fenwick vowed to try again after the market improved.

Fenwick’s slaves meanwhile assisted brick layers, stone masons, and carpenters in building on the old Waller property St. Rose Church and St. Rose Priory, the first Dominican house in the United States. The enslaved women took care of the house and continued to tend the garden. The enslaved men cared for the livestock, kept the farm in working order, and ground corn at the mill. Fenwick worked beside the men at the mill. Fenwick considered his slaves part of the St. Rose "family." But Fenwick also described his slaves as requiring "much or more looking after than elsewhere." A neighbor named Spink helped manage the slaves, especially when Fenwick was away from St. Rose.

When Fenwick permanently moved to Somerset, Ohio in 1817, the Dominicans hired a local Catholic, Clement Riney to oversee the enslaved workers at St. Rose. The St. Rose slaves nonetheless undoubtedly enjoyed a fair amount of autonomy.

Fenwick became Bishop of Cincinnati in 1822. In 1825 he handed over to the Kentucky Dominicans legal rights to the St. Rose slaves. Fenwick thereafter praised Ohio as a free state and described the people of Ohio as morally superior to the slaveholding people of Kentucky.

In 1829 Fenwick suggested that the Dominicans sell all the St. Rose slaves in order to liquidate the property’s debt. Pope Pius VIII did not allow the sale. Fenwick opened what would become Xavier in 1831, and died in 1832. The number of slaves at St. Rose subsequently grew to thirty-seven, eventually including Fred and Alice Hardin whose descendants may still live in the area.

Slaves in the early American Catholic community

Matthias Sousa, an indentured servant, who, along with a slave named Jowett, was among the first Catholic persons of African heritage to live in colonial Maryland.

The most significant, earliest American Catholic community to settle in 1634 at Maryland included many free indentured servants and a few enslaved individuals. With the introduction tobacco around 1700 the number of enslaved Catholic persons grew. Up to the Civil War, slaves contributed significantly to the Catholic community, especially by providing food and sustenance for religious leaders (such as Jesuit priests), and by helping some Catholics, including the Fenwick family, prosper.

1810 Federal Census, Washington County, Kentucky

Source: 1810 Federal Census, Washington, Kentucky; Roll 8, Page 321.

1820 Federal Census, Washington County, Kentucky (Wilson succeeded Fenwick)

Source: 1820 Federal Census, Washington, Kentucky; Page 65, NARA M33 29.

Slaves Edward Fenwick inherited

Among the first settlers of colonial Maryland, the Fenwick family owned slaves for several generations. Edward Fenwick's father, Colonel Ignatius Fenwick (1736-1784), held in bondage George, Hester, Ben, Jane, and Rachel, all members of St. Ignatius Church in 1768 (the year Edward Fenwick was born).

Another enslaved child, Mary was born on the Fenwick plantation, and subsequently baptized at St. Francis Xavier Church (also in southern Maryland) in 1770. Upon Colonel Fenwick's death in 1784, Edward Fenwick inherited 900 acres of his father's land along with some of his slaves, perhaps including Mary and/or members of her family.

But Edward Fenwick was in Europe for some twenty years after his father's death, and his brothers managed his Maryland property. Edward Fenwick did not claim his inheritance until 1805, at which time he sold all he inherited, including the slaves, and used the proceeds to purchase land and slaves in Kentucky where he started a religious community, the St. Rose Dominican Priory.

Articles of agreement between R[evd T[homas] Wilson Superior of St Rose[’]s Washington C[oun]ty & Mr Clement Riney, same County (1817/1819)

Source: Washington County Courthouse, Springfield, KY; copy in Luke Tancrell, O.P. papers

Fenwick Letters

Letters from Edward Dominic Fenwick Papers 1803-1832: Founding American Dominican Friar and Bishop, Luke Tancrell OP, editor (New York: The Dominican Province of St. Joseph, 2005) . Used with permission.