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Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2008

    A reviewer

    Thomas Norman DeWolf, the author of ¿Inheriting the Trade¿ is the great, great, great, great grandson of Simon DeWolf who lived from 1719 to 1761 and was the brother of Mark Antony DeWolf '1726 to 1793'. Mark Antony DeWolf and his wife had fifteen children, of whom at least five sons were involved with the triangular trade from colonial times to the middle of the nineteenth century. Sugar and molasses from Cuba was shipped to Bristol, Rhode Island, where it was distilled into rum which was shipped to West Africa where it was traded for African enslaved men and women. The slaves were shipped to Cuba 'some to Charleston, South Carolina' to either toil in the sugar fields of the DeWolf owned plantations or to be sold at auctions in Havana 'some auctions were in Charleston'. One of the themes throughout this account of the trips taken by ten DeWolfe descendants to the points of this triangle namely Bristol, Ghana and Cuba, is the general lack of knowledge in the US of the strategic role played by the use of slave labor in fostering the wealth accumulation of many northern families, the economic growth of the US economy and the coming of age of the country as a world power. The north benefited from the practice of slavery as did the states below the Mason Dixon line. In fact, one of the guest historians selected to provide information to this family group states ¿each white skinned person in this country benefited from the legacy of the institution of slavery.¿ Cotton cultivated by slaves in the south was sent to northern factories to be woven into cloth. Sugar, coffee, tobacco and rice were purchased for use in households throughout the country. The use of slaves in Cuba on the DeWolf sugar plantations is well documented in the book but there is minimal mention of the slaves¿ labor in the rice and cotton fields of South Carolina and the indigo, sugar and tobacco fields of other southern states. The role of Charleston, South Carolina in the slave trade is mentioned yet Charleston was not one of the sites visited by the family and it was not developed for the book or the documentary film ¿Traces of the Trade¿, directed by another DeWolfe descendant, Katrina Browne. Charleston was a major point of entry for the Africans who were brought to America in the 18th century and were auctioned at slave markets at several locations in the city. It was startling to see in one of the historic homes in Charleston, which had belonged to a DeWolf, luxurious features including gold gilding on the woodwork, and to not hear any mention from the tour guide of the accurate source of the wealth which built the lavish residence. In Bristol, the outstanding ¿traces of the trade¿ which are readily accessible for visiting are the DeWolfe wharf area, St. Michael Episcopal Church and ¿Linden Place¿, the mansion built by Charles DeWolfe, a son of Mark Antony DeWolfe, in 1810 right in the center of the town on Hope Street. The wharf, constructed partly with African stone, has been revitalized as part of Thames Street Landing, an attractive retail, restaurant and hotel commercial development. The church features several brilliant stained glass windows donated in memory of various DeWolfe family members. A flyer for ¿Linden Place¿ encourages visitors to ¿tour the stately federal style mansion and gardens where generations of DeWolfs . . . entertained four U. S. presidents¿. In contrast to the prosperity, both past and present, so evident now in Bristol, on the ride to the Cape Coast in Ghana, Tom sees ¿evidence of tremendous hardship: buildings in disrepair, open sewers and people who appear destitute¿. The ten cousins examined the dungeons at the Elmina and Cape Coast castles near the sea where generations ago captured human beings were held awaiting ships to transport them across the Atlantic to live the remainder of their lives enslaved as workers for individuals and businesses in the new world. The last leg of this journey,

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2009

    must read

    This book is a must read for any thoughtful person, especially one who is concerned about race relations today. DeWolf adds many details not found in "Traces of the Trade" documentary. He is a great writer, sharing his thoughts and feelings about the slave trade and what difference it makes for the 21st century. It is an easy to read book, meaning easy to follow and in the language of the common person, but very thought provoking.

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