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


In 2001, Thomas DeWolf discovered that he was related to the most successful slave-trading family in U.S. history, responsible for transporting at least ten thousand Africans. This is his memoir of the journey in which ten family members retraced their ancestors' steps through the notorious triangle trade route—from New England to West Africa to Cuba—and uncovered the hidden history of New England and the other northern states.
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Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading

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In 2001, Thomas DeWolf discovered that he was related to the most successful slave-trading family in U.S. history, responsible for transporting at least ten thousand Africans. This is his memoir of the journey in which ten family members retraced their ancestors' steps through the notorious triangle trade route—from New England to West Africa to Cuba—and uncovered the hidden history of New England and the other northern states.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
I cannot recommend it highly enough. The book is terrific.—Harry Smith, anchor, The Early Show, CBS

"DeWolf's intimate confrontation with white America's 'unearned privilege' sears the conscience." —Kirkus Reviews

"This soul-searching memoir . . . promotes conversation about 'truth of the past and its impact on the present.'" —Publishers Weekly

"Required reading for anyone interested in reconciliation." —Myrlie Evers-Williams, civil rights leader and author of The Autobiography of Medgar Evers

"[It's] like a slow motion mash up, a first-person view from within one of the country's founding families as it splinters, then puts itself back together again." —Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family

"An eye-opening volume. It not only dispels myths about slavery but also shows how that history haunts this country to this day." —Katie Schneider, the Oregonian

"It is [this] spirit of honesty and the willingness to confront the ugly parts of human experience that give Inheriting the Trade its value."—Marjorie Kehe, the Christian Science Monitor

"An artful merging of historical explication with biography and travelogue."—Mary Donnarumma Sharnick, America magazine

"A candid, powerful, and insightful book."—Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., executive director, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807072820
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 2/1/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 492,389
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Norman DeWolf was born in California and educated at the University of Oregon. He served as city councilor, county commissioner, and for nine years on the Oregon Arts Commission. His years of public service focused on literacy, children's issues, and restorative justice. A member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, he lives with his wife in Oregon.

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Table of Contents

Family Tree VIII

Preface XI

Chapter 1 Growing Up White 1

Chapter 2 "Frail limb'd, well fed, and speaks good English" 12

Chapter 3 "So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord!" 30

Chapter 4 The Great Folks 39

Chapter 5 "I tremble for my country..." 55

Chapter 6 Akwaaba 71

Chapter 7 "Under a Patchwork of Scars" 91

Chapter 8 The Door of No Return 110

Chapter 9 "I have to do it every day" 121

Chapter 10 Gye Nyame 132

Chapter 11 The Middle Passage 146

Chapter 12 La Habana 155

Chapter 13 "Our Nice Protestant Selves" 169

Chapter 14 Arca de Noe 182

Chapter 15 In the Fishbowl 197

Chapter 16 My Harvard Education 209

Chapter 17 Repairing the Breach 219

Chapter 18 Sankofa 230

Afterword 241

Acknowledgments 252

Notes 257

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • 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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