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Temporary exhibit at Freedom House Museum details life of enslaved child at D.C.’s Gonzaga High School

Searching for Truth in the Garden from Gonzaga High School in D.C. is a new traveling exhibition at Freedom House Museum until April 15, 2023 (via City of Alexandria)

A new temporary exhibit at Freedom House Museum until April documents the life of a teenager enslaved at Washington Seminary in D.C.

Searching for Truth in the Garden” reveals a story of Gabriel, a 13-year-old boy who was enslaved at the school — later renamed Gonzaga College High School — in 1829.

The research was conducted by seven Gonzaga students and Georgetown University history professor Adam Rothman, who started the project in 2016. Rothman was speaking to students about his work with Georgetown’s Working Group on slavery when a student asked about connections between the school and slavery. Rothman invited students to research the question at Georgetown, which they did in the summers of 2017 and 2018.

“Their work shows how students can be inspired to go beyond textbooks to take a deeper dive into our history and bring to light the untold stories of the American historical narrative,” said Audrey Davis, director of the city’s  African American History Division. “With Gabriel, we learn about the horrors of the domestic slave trade, and tragic life of one enslaved 13-year-old boy.”

According to the city, the group studied accounting books, written histories, enrollment records, and other original documents related to the schools, including the sale of 272 slaves by the Jesuits in 1838.

The project also inspired an ancestry project with Georgetown University.

“According to In 1838, Maryland’s Jesuit priests sold hundreds of men, women, and children to Southern plantations to raise money for the construction of Georgetown University,” Georgetown University said. ” Though they faced incredible hardship, most didn’t perish. They married and raised children. Today, more than 8,000 of their descendants have been located through genealogical research. Use this site to search for an ancestor and to hear the stories of the descendants.”

Gonzaga history teacher Ed Donnellan helped in the project.

“This exploration of what is a very painful past for Gonzaga and for the Society of Jesus is very important,” Donnellan said. “It’s my hope and prayer that this begins something in our community that helps us heal, helps us move forward, and helps us be honest about where we’ve come from and who we are today.”

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