HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Main » Editorials & Other Articles (Forum) » James DeWolf: 2nd Richest...

Sun May 5, 2019, 11:03 PM

James DeWolf: 2nd Richest American, Leading Slave Trader in US History, Rhode Island Senator

Last edited Mon May 6, 2019, 04:27 PM - Edit history (3)

(Tracing Center). James DeWolf of Bristol, Rhode Island (1764-1837) was a United States senator and a wealthy merchant who, at the time of his death, was reported to be the second richest person in the country. He was also the leading slave trader in the history of the United States. Over fifty years and three generations, from 1769 to 1820, James DeWolf and his extended family brought approximately 12,000 enslaved Africans across the Middle Passage, making the DeWolf1 family our nation’s most successful slave-trading family.

In a notorious incident aboard the slaving ship Polly in 1789, James DeWolf ordered an enslaved woman, dead or dying of smallpox, thrown into the Atlantic Ocean. While there was an attempt later to prosecute him for this act, he was found not guilty, on the grounds that this was his duty as ship’s captain. (See below)

One of our founders, James DeWolf Perry, is a direct descendant of James DeWolf, and co-founder Katrina Browne, producer/director of our documentary film, *Traces of the Trade,* is descended from another member of the extended DeWolf slave-trading family.



- The DeWolf slave trade: The DeWolf family fortune was built on the buying and selling of human beings. DeWolf slave ships brought the enslaved from the west coast of Africa to auction blocks in Charleston, South Carolina and other southern U.S. ports; to Havana, Cuba and to other ports in the Caribbean; to their own sugar plantations in Cuba; and into their own homes. James DeWolf owned a rum distillery, and he and his family started both a bank and an insurance company, all to profit even further from the slave trade. They even sent a family member to establish an auction house in Charleston, S.C., where many of their slaving voyages ended up.

In the 1790s and early 1800s, DeWolf and his brothers virtually built the economy of Bristol, Rhode Island: many of the buildings they funded still stand, and the stained glass windows at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church bear DeWolf names to this day. Across the generations, their family has included state legislators, philanthropists, writers, scholars, and Episcopal bishops and priests.

- Illegal slave trading: The DeWolf family continued in the slave trade despite state and federal laws prohibiting many of their activities in the late 1700s. Their efforts to circumvent those laws eventually lead them to arrange a political favor with President Thomas Jefferson, who agreed to split the federal customs district based in Newport, R.I. This maneuver permitted the appointment of a customs inspector just for Bristol, and the choice was Charles Collins, the brother-in-law of James DeWolf, who conveniently ignored the slave ships moving in and out of harbor.

One member of the family, George DeWolf, is known to have continued in the trade after 1808, when Congress banned the importation of slaves into the U.S. He did so until 1820, when Congress made slave trading a hanging offense. James DeWolf himself was reported to have abandoned the slave trade as of January 1, 1808; there is, as yet, no evidence to demonstrate that he took part in any slaving voyages after that date, but it seems quite possible that he did.

The DeWolf family’s complicity in slavery continued after 1820 in other ways, too, as the family maintained slave plantations in Cuba and James DeWolf invested his slave trade profits in textile mills which used slave-produced cotton.

Today, there are as many as half a million living descendants of the people traded as chattel by the DeWolfs.

The incident aboard the 'Polly'...Read More, https://www.tracingcenter.org/resources/background/james-dewolf/



(4 mins.). Film Trailer, 'Traces Of The Trade: A Story From the Deep North' (2008), aired on PBS POV/Point of View.
More on PBS: http://www.pbs.org/pov/tracesofthetrade/

~ "TRACES OF THE TRADE, DOCUMENTARY FILM ~ In the feature documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, filmmaker Katrina Browne discovers that her New England ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. She and 9 cousins retrace the Triangle Trade and gain powerful new perspectives on the black/white divide.
http://www.tracesofthetrade.org/family/



Katrina Browne, DeWolf descendant and filmmaker.

Producer/director Katrina Browne has established a nonprofit organization, the Tracing Center, to spread the message of the film and to offer screenings, dialogues, and other programming on slavery, race, and privilege.
>For more information about these programs, or to request someone for a screening, dialogue, or other event, please contact the Tracing Center at info@tracingcenter.org.

Producer/Director: Katrina Browne. Co-Directors: Alla Kovgan, Jude Ray. Co-Producers: Elizabeth Delude-Dix, Juanita Capri Brown. The story of her forefathers, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Given the myth that the South is solely responsible for slavery, viewers will be surprised to learn that Browne’s ancestors were Northerners. The film follows Browne and 9 fellow family members on a remarkable journey which brings them face-to-face with the history and legacy of New England’s hidden enterprise.

“A far-reaching personal documentary examination of the slave trade … The implications of the film are devastating.”
— Stephen Holden, The New York Times

From 1769 to 1820, DeWolf fathers, sons and grandsons trafficked in human beings. They sailed their ships from Bristol, Rhode Island to West Africa with rum to trade for African men, women and children. Captives were taken to plantations that the DeWolfs owned in Cuba or were sold at auction in such ports as Havana and Charleston. Sugar and molasses were then brought from Cuba to the family-owned rum distilleries in Bristol. Over the generations, the family transported more than ten thousand enslaved Africans across the Middle Passage. They amassed an enormous fortune. By the end of his life, James DeWolf had been a U.S. Senator and was reportedly the second richest man in the United States.

The enslavement of Africans was business for more than just the DeWolf family. It was a cornerstone of Northern commercial life. The Triangle Trade drove the economy of many port cities (Rhode Island had the largest share in the trade of any state), and slavery itself existed in the North for over 200 years. Northern textile mills used slave-picked cotton from the South to fuel the Industrial Revolution, while banks and insurance companies played a key role throughout the period. While the DeWolfs were one of only a few “slaving” dynasties, the network of commercial activities that they were tied to involved an enormous portion of the Northern population. Many citizens, for example, would buy shares in slave ships in order to make a profit.

-->The film follows ten DeWolf descendants (ages 32-71, ranging from sisters to 7th cousins) as they retrace the steps of the Triangle Trade, visiting the DeWolf hometown of Bristol, Rhode Island, slave forts on the coast of Ghana, and the ruins of a family plantation in Cuba. Back home, the family confronts the thorny topic of what to do now. In the context of growing calls for reparations for slavery, family members struggle with the question of how to think about and contribute to “repair.” Meanwhile, Browne and her family come closer to the core: their love/hate relationship with their own Yankee culture and privileges; the healing and transformation needed not only “out there,” but inside themselves.

The issues the DeWolf descendants are confronted with dramatize questions that apply to the nation as a whole: What, concretely, is the legacy of slavery—for diverse whites, for diverse blacks, for diverse others? Who owes who what for the sins of the fathers of this country? What history do we inherit as individuals and as citizens? How does Northern complicity change the equation? What would repair—spiritual and material—really look like and what would it take? More, http://www.tracesofthetrade.org/family/

5 replies, 1971 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 5 replies Author Time Post
Reply James DeWolf: 2nd Richest American, Leading Slave Trader in US History, Rhode Island Senator (Original post)
appalachiablue May 2019 OP
raccoon May 2019 #1
appalachiablue May 2019 #2
appalachiablue May 2019 #3
BeckyDem May 2019 #4
Uncle Joe May 2019 #5

Response to appalachiablue (Original post)

Mon May 6, 2019, 12:31 PM

1. Thanks for posting. This paragraph especially:

The enslavement of Africans was business for more than just the DeWolf family. It was a cornerstone of Northern commercial life. The Triangle Trade drove the economy of many port cities (Rhode Island had the largest share in the trade of any state), and slavery itself existed in the North for over 200 years. Northern textile mills used slave-picked cotton from the South to fuel the Industrial Revolution, while banks and insurance companies played a key role throughout the period. While the DeWolfs were one of only a few “slaving” dynasties, the network of commercial activities that they were tied to involved an enormous portion of the Northern population. Many citizens, for example, would buy shares in slave ships in order to make a profit.


It wasn't just Southerners (or rather, Southern slaveowners, because many white Southerners did not own slaves) who profited from slavery.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to raccoon (Reply #1)

Mon May 6, 2019, 03:32 PM

2. Also of interest, North section from the Tracing Center website above:

Last edited Mon May 6, 2019, 04:42 PM - Edit history (2)

~ 'Northern Involvement In The Slave Trade ~ The Tracing Center (2008)

A central fact obscured by post-Civil War mythologies is that the northern U.S. states were deeply implicated in slavery and the slave trade right up to the war. The slave trade in particular was dominated by the northern maritime industry. Rhode Island alone was responsible for half of all U.S. slave voyages. James DeWolf and his family may have been the biggest slave traders in U.S. history, but there were many others involved. For example, members of the Brown family of Providence, some of whom were prominent in the slave trade, gave substantial gifts to Rhode Island College, which was later renamed Brown University.

While local townspeople thought of the DeWolfs and other prominent families primarily as general merchants, distillers and traders who supported ship-building, warehousing, insurance and other trades and businesses, it was common knowledge that one source of this business was the cheap labor and huge profits reaped from trafficking in human beings. The North also imported slaves, as well as transporting and selling them in the south and abroad. While the majority of enslaved Africans arrived in southern ports–Charleston, South Carolina was the largest market for slave traders, including the DeWolfs—most large colonial ports served as points of entry, and Africans were sold in northern ports including Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Newport, Rhode Island.

The southern coastal states from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland were therefore home to the vast majority of enslaved persons. But there were slaves in each of the thirteen original colonies, and slavery was legal in the north for over two hundred years. While the northern states gradually began abolishing slavery by law starting in the 1780s, many northern states did not act against slavery until well into the 19th century, and their laws generally provided only for gradual abolition, allowing slave owners to keep their existing slaves and often their children. As a result, New Jersey, for instance, still had thousands of persons legally enslaved in the 1830s, and did not finally abolish slavery by law until 1846. As late as the outbreak of the Civil War, in fact, there were northern slaves listed on the federal census..More, https://www.tracingcenter.org/resources/background/northern-involvement-in-the-slave-trade/
_______________________________________________________________




The history of slavery in the US is a complex and vast subject, I've followed various arguments but want to research more. The North was heavily involved in the trade from the prominent shipping/transportation owners like the DeWolfs, to average workers who made ship sails, barrels and ironworks including shackles, to the people who labored in cotton and textile mills in RI and New England.

*Wiki, Atlantic Slave Trade,
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_slave_trade

The slave trade was vital to the wealth of the United States and individuals who profited for generations like the DeWolfs and other notables. Members of these merchant and land owning families even endowed and had associations with our earliest American academic institutions from the colonial period such as Brown University in RI, Kings College (Columbia) in NY, Georgetown University in DC, the College of William and Mary in VA and other schools.

See 'Ebony and Ivy,' Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of America's Universities,' Craig Steven Wilder, 2013.
https://www.npr.org/books/titles/385792110/ebony-and-ivy-race-slavery-and-the-troubled-history-of-americas-universities

Who is ultimately responsible, who carries primary blame for perpetuating Trans Atlantic African slavery is an enormous issue. Was it the wealthy finance and merchant class in Britain and the principal slave trade port cities of London, Bristol and Liverpool that gained the most? Was it the ruling planter class in the American South that perpetuated the horrible system? What about influential US merchants and financiers in the North and South employed in the cotton trade and related industries. Some scholars also look at African groups involved in the business of capturing and selling people of other tribes to European slave trade operators.

Americans don't study the institution of slavery outside the US enough, in other parts of the New World expansion during the colonial era. Slavery in the US was connected in many ways to the larger system that operated in all areas- North America, Latin America and South America (16th-19th centuries). In addition to the British, other nations --the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch and their economies also benefitted greatly from the African slave trade in terms of manpower and the large amount of manufactured goods, services and workers employed in the shipping industry. France was involved in the trade, shipping and utilizing slaves in its Caribbean holdings of Martinique, Haiti and Guadeloupe, as was Denmark which briefly controlled lands in the Virgin Islands.

Wiki, Slavery In The British And French West Indies.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_the_British_and_French_Caribbean

Portuguese Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery in the Americas in 1890. It's important to remember that prior to the use of chattel slaves from Africa, the colonial nations utilized indigenous native people to clear fields, toil in mines, and more. I've seen the sugar cane fields and mills in the Caribbean and farming communities in Peru and Brazil in South America and I can verify the cruelty, exploitation and resulting poverty there.
It's argued by many that the American South was 'the draw' for the European Trans Atlantic slave trade. It kept the institution in place mainly for financial profit despite justifications otherwise that the institution was benevolent and based on ancient religious examples, and other fabrications promoted by vested parties. There's no question that slave labor was critical to large scale production of cotton, rice, indigo and other crops in the southern agriculture system that was the backbone of the economy. It's an institution, a painful scourge that is still damaging the US in so many ways.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to appalachiablue (Original post)

Mon May 6, 2019, 05:33 PM

3. More on the DeWolf family & slavery, and US Colleges and slavery:



(14 mins.) Interviews with Katrina Browne, a DeWolf family descendant and the filmmaker of 'TRACES OF THE TRADE: A Story From The Deep North' (2008), and historian Craig Steven Wilder, author of 'EBONY AND IVY: Race, Slavery And The Troubled History Of America's Universities' (2013). Democracy Now! news, Oct. 2013.
- More, DN! interview & transcript, https://www.democracynow.org/2013/10/30/filmmaker_uncovers_her_familys_shocking_slave

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to appalachiablue (Original post)

Mon May 6, 2019, 08:03 PM

4. Highly recommend.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to appalachiablue (Original post)

Mon May 6, 2019, 08:30 PM

5. Kicked and recommended.

Thanks for the thread appalachiablue.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread