In 1838, Georgetown teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. 272 slaves were sold to save the school.
News of the sale surfaced in headlines last year, sparking heated exchanges on campus and beyond.
As Georgetown employee Jeremy Alexander watched the events unfold, he had no idea how close to the story he was. One of his ancestors was among the 272 slaves.
A Message From Long Lost Family
Jeremy’s amazing discovery was made possible by a DNA test and a little help from long lost family.
In 2014, he took an AncestryDNA test and then worked with his wife on a family tree. He got as far back as his great-grandmother, Anna Jones.
But it wasn’t until a distant cousin from Boston reached out and shared her research that he traced his roots back to his great-great-great grandmother on his father’s side, Anna Mahoney Jones.
Jeremy’s ancestor Anna Mahoney Jones was one of the 272 slaves sold by the Jesuit priests who ran Georgetown in 1838.
The total price paid for the 272 slaves? About $115,000, or $3.3 million in today’s dollars.
What Did Jeremy Find Out About His Ancestor Anna?
Research related to slave ancestors is challenging since they were often listed as property. But Jeremy and his family were fortunate to find traces of their ancestor Anna in the records.
Anna Mahoney Jones was born in 1811. In the mid-1820s, she married Arnold Jones.
Arnold escaped before the sale of his family. But Anna and her two children (Louisa, 6, and Arnold, 9) were put aboard the ship Katherine Jackson and sent to work as slaves at Chatham Plantation in Louisiana.
Anna next appears as “Ann Jones” in the 1870s census, listed as living in New Orleans. She passed away four years afterward.
Generations later, many of Anna’s descendants, now bearing the last name Alexander, live less than 100 miles from New Orleans, near Pass Christian, Mississippi.
What’s fascinating is that evidence of the family’s deep roots in Louisiana and Mississippi actually appears in Jeremy’s DNA test results.
Jeremy, based on his DNA test, shares genetic ties to others who most likely descended from a population of common ancestors—the early settlers of Mississippi and Louisiana.
Looking to the Future
It has been about 180 years since the sale of Anna Mahoney Jones and her fellow 272 slaves. But the large scale conversations around it have been much more recent.
To promote the healing process, Georgetown has issued a formal apology to the descendants. And they’ve rededicated two buildings on campus, originally named after former university presidents involved in the sale of the 272 slaves.
For Jeremy, what began as a journey inspired by his father and motivated by the desire to learn more about the past for his son, tied him to something much bigger.
And what started as an exploration of the past ended up being very much about the future:
“My son is really going to have a great sense of pride to know that he came from strong people. All we can wish is that he will do better in America. And that’s what we wish for Jesse, is to have that better opportunity.”
Jeremy’s story unfolded in more powerful ways than he could imagine since he took the first step with an AncestryDNA test in 2014. And through his son, his story and the stories of their ancestors will live on and inspire future generations.
What are the family stories that will drive your future? Start your journey with an AncestryDNA test.