Missouri Historical Review Author Series: Kelly Schmidt on Slavery and the Catholic Church

John Brenner, managing editor of Missouri Historical Review hosts author and historian Kelly Schmidt for a discussion of her research on people enslaved by the early Catholic Church in Missouri and the communities they formed to help each other through their hardships, challenge the terms of their bondage, and ultimately seek their freedom. A postdoctoral research associate for the Washington University and Slavery Project, Schmidt is the author of the April 2022 Missouri Historical Review article “Slavery and the Shaping of Catholic Missouri, 1810–1850.”

Schmidt combines extensive research in church archives and other repositories with contemporary mapping techniques to recover the identities of individuals largely obscured by traditional histories. In reconstructing the life experiences of those enslaved by Catholic individuals and institutions, she explores their long-term significance in shaping Catholicism within the emerging state of Missouri while tracing the religious and kinship networks by which they established a sense of community for themselves. Her talk will focus in part on the Nesbit family, tracing three generations through enslavement by Bishop Louis William Valentine DuBourg in 1822, agonizing separations as they were sent to various individuals and institutions within the Church, and finally their first successful freedom suit in the early 1840s.

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