Rachel L. Swarns + Edward Ball: The 272

Actions Panel

Rachel L. Swarns + Edward Ball: The 272

Join us for an in-person event with journalist and author Rachel L. Swarns, for the launch of her new book The 272.

By The Strand Book Store

When and where

Date and time

Starts on Monday, June 12 · 7pm EDT


Strand Book Store 828 Broadway 3rd Floor, Rare Book Room New York, NY 10003

Refund Policy

Contact the organizer to request a refund.
Eventbrite's fee is nonrefundable.

About this event

  • 1 hour
  • Mobile eTicket

Join us for an in-person event with journalist and author Rachel L. Swarns, for the launch of her new book The 272: The Families Who Were Enslaved and Sold to Build the American Catholic Church. Joining Rachel in conversation is award-winning author Edward Ball. This event will be hosted in the Strand Book Store's 3rd floor Rare Book Room at 828 Broadway on 12th Street.

Can’t make the event? Purchase a signed copy of The 272 here.


Masks and vaccination checks are not required for entry.

Attendees are welcome to wear a mask if they choose. If you do not have a mask and would like one, The Strand will provide masks at the door.

Please note this is subject to change any time before or during the event per the author’s request.


“Outstanding. An incredible project of research and deciphering and storytelling and a devastating indictment, not only of Georgetown but also of the entire Catholic Church, which is now grappling with this history, prodded, in no small measure, by Rachel Swarns’ exceptional reporting.” --Steven Hahn, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Nation Under Our Feet and A Nation without Borders

In 1838, a group of America's most prominent Catholic priests sold 272 enslaved people to save their largest mission project, what is now Georgetown University. The 272: The Families Who Were Enslaved and Sold to Build the American Catholic Church is a groundbreaking account by journalist, author, and professor Rachel L. Swarns, who follows one family through nearly two centuries of indentured servitude and enslavement to uncover the harrowing origin story of the Catholic Church in the United States.

Through the saga of the Mahoney family, Swarns illustrates how the Church relied on slave labor and slave sales to sustain its operations and to help finance its expansion. The story begins with Ann Joice, a free Black woman and the matriarch of the Mahoney family. Joice sailed to Maryland in the late 1600s as an indentured servant, but her contract was burned and her freedom stolen. Her descendants, who were enslaved by Jesuit priests, passed down the story of that broken promise for centuries. One of those descendants, Harry Mahoney, saved lives and the church’s money in the War of 1812, but his children, including Louisa and Anna, were put up for sale in 1838. One daughter managed to escape. The other was sold and shipped to Louisiana. Their descendants would remain apart until Rachel Swarns’s reporting in The New York Times finally reunited them. They would go on to join other GU272 descendants who pressed Georgetown and the Catholic Church to make amends, prodding the institutions to break new ground in the movement for reparations and reconciliation in America.

Swarns’s journalism has already started a national conversation about universities with ties to slavery. The 272 tells a bigger story, demonstrating how slavery fueled the growth of the Catholic Church in America and bringing to light the enslaved people whose forced labor helped to build the largest religious denomination in the nation.

Rachel L. Swarns is a journalism professor at New York University and a contributing writer for The New York Times. She is the author of American Tapestry and a co-author of Unseen. Her work has been recognized and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Biographers International Organization, the Leon Levy Center for Biography, the MacDowell artist residency program, and others.

Photo credit: Lisa Guillard

Edward Ball is the author of six nonfiction books. His first book, Slaves in the Family (1998), an account of his paternal family’s 170 years as slaveholders in South Carolina, received the National Book Award for Nonfiction. His book Life of a Klansman (2020) tells the story of one of Edward’s maternal ancestors, a carpenter in Louisiana who took up the cause of fanatical racism to become a marauder in the Ku Klux Klan. Edward is a fellow at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2023.

Photo credit: Claire Bangser

About the organizer

Strand Book Store was born in 1927 on Fourth Avenue on what was then called “Book Row,” an area that covered six city blocks and housed forty-eight bookstores. Our founder Benjamin Bass was all of twenty-five years old when he began his modest used bookstore and sought to create a place where books would be loved, and book lovers could congregate. Ninety years and a move over to Broadway, the Strand is still run by the Bass Family and is home to four floors of over 2.5 million used, new, and rare books, a wide array of bookish gifts, and fun literary events held almost every night of the week. From the dollar carts outside to the Rare Book Room on the third floor, and cheeky graffiti-ing throughout the store courtesy of Steve “EPSO” Powers, the iconic store now stands testament a place for book lovers to explore.