Echoes of Injustice: The image of a slave brings closure to a Terrebonne parish Family

Echoes of Injustice: The image of a slave brings closure to a Terrebonne Parish family
Published: May. 24, 2017 at 2:26 AM CDT|Updated: May. 24, 2017 at 3:23 PM CDT
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The Jesuits of Georgetown University sold hundreds of slaves to two Louisiana plantation owners in 1838 to pay off the university's debts.

Now, a Nicholls State University researcher has put a face on echoes of injustice that span generations and has brought closure to a Terrebonne Parish family.

"My mother is Gene Campbell. I grew up on this property all the way to King Street," said Cliff Clay.

Members of the Campbell family stand on land an ancestor bought more than 100 years ago.

"It's still ours. We still here. The same family since back then, since Frank Campbell," Clay said.

Suzette Thomas holds a binder filled with family names. Frank Campbell was just a name on their family tree from the 1800s. Now, he has come to life as so much more.

"When I first found out they found the photo of Frank Campbell it was tears of joy," Suzette Thomas said.

Inside Nicholls State University's library, Clifton Theriot pours over pieces of the past.

"I'm an archivist in special collections," he said. "Part of my job here in the archive is to collect things important to local history."

A history that sometimes carries an ugly truth.

"I was familiar with the Georgetown Memory project," he said.

The Georgetown Memory project is an independent group of Georgetown alumni and friends working to find descendants of 272 slaves Georgetown Jesuits sold to Louisiana plantation owners.

"Some of them went to Terrebonne Parish and others went to Ascension Parish to Maringouin," he said.

In reading about the sale of the Georgetown slaves, Theriot saw something familiar. One of the articles was about Terrebonne slaves, and he came across the name of Frank Campbell.

That name rang a bell.

He began to look in the archives looking at photo albums and came across the one with a photograph of Frank Campbell. The little book of pictures was found in the papers of the Barrow Family Estate in Terrebonne Parish. The black and white photo of an elderly man named Frank Campbell had two captions.

"One of them said Frank Campbell was 19 when the stars fell in 1833. I looked it up and it was a meteor shower in 1833."

He immediately called Judy Riffel, Head Genealogist with the Georgetown Memory Project. They determined the picture was Frank Campbell one of the Georgetown slaves.

It's currently the only known photograph of one of those slaves.

"We rarely get to see images like that. It was pretty exciting," said Riffel.

Riffel contacted Frank Campbell's relatives who had no idea of the face or the powerful story behind the name on their family tree.

"Then we started saying, this is me! This is my grandfather."

"As far as Frank Campbell go, it was something to find out. It makes your heart do things. It makes you wonder what he went through," said Cliff Clay.

A bill of sale archived

"It is the bill of sale from Thomas F. Mulledy to Jesse Beaty in Louisiana. He's selling 54 Negroes and they're listed on the bill of sale," said Riffel reading from the document.

Father Thomas F. Mulledy was president of Georgetown in 1838, and sold 272 slaves for $115,000 to pay off the bulk of the university's debts.

Frank Campbell was on the first shipment of human cargo. One of 54 slaves sent from Georgetown to New Orleans.

"They left on June 18, 1838 and arrived in New Orleans on the Brig Uncas in July of 1838," Riffel said. Then they were sent to Terrebonne Parish.

Frank is listed simply as Frank, 20.

Father Mulledy wrote in the bill of sale, "I do warrant the said Negroes to be sound and healthy and slaves for life."

Suzette Thomas, a descendant had tears in her eyes.

"I can't imagine withstanding the pain of what they've gone through, being treated less than human," she said.

"They tilled the land, they cultivated the land and they made plantation owners rich through their blood."

Clifton Theriot says the photograph was taken in 1905 or 1906. Campbell was an elderly man with a cane. He was photographed with two of his granddaughters who may have been visiting the plantation where he worked after slavery.

The image of a woman in the album is believed to be Frank's wife. Mary Jane Mahoney was also on that first shipment of slaves.

"He had eight children and today descendants scatter around the country. We know of some of the descendants in North Carolina," Theriot said. "Some are in California and Wisconsin and some in Terrebonne Parish."

Dominic Campbell said finding out about his great-great-great-great-grandfather gives him an opportunity to help his kids travel the history tree and know where they came from.

The president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States Father Timothy Kesicki apologized to descendants of slaves for the sale by his order almost 200 years ago.

Suzette Thomas says it's not enough.

"You can't apologize for that. You can't go back and erase it. You can't change it," she said.

Frank Campbell's image is a reminder of a time his ancestors would rather forget, but refuse to. His legacy is one of strength.

"This man lived through slavery, was moved and sold and resold. To go through something like that had to have a tremendous effect on emotions and lives," Theriot said.

After slavery,  he was successful enough to buy property, build his house, and his family survived.

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