Inheriting the TradeMy cousin, Tom DeWolf, has written a memoir about the journey which ten of us undertook in 2001 to retrace the steps of our slave-trading ancestors and to explore the legacy of the slave trade today.

That book, Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History, about the legacy of Senator James D’Wolf and his family, will be published by Beacon Press in January.

In the book, Tom (writing as Thomas Norman DeWolf) recounts our journey along the route of the triangle trade from Bristol, R.I. to the coast of Ghana, to Havana, Cuba and back to the U.S. This journey was filmed for the forthcoming documentary, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, but Tom is able to go into much greater detail about the history of the family and the slave trade, as well as each participant and our discussions and debates during the course of the project. He also focuses on his own personal transformation, exploring his evolving understanding of race in the U.S. and pondering future steps for our society in overcoming the burden of slavery and discrimination.

Tom’s book is an honest and powerful exploration of a difficult subject. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Tom writes. He recounts our journey as he experienced it, and his experience of race has also been vastly different from my own. But he writes in a frank, compelling style about his own experiences, thoughts and feelings. And I’m continually surprised at how often I find myself agreeing with his conclusions, despite our strikingly different backgrounds, personalities, and approaches to race.

5 Responses to “Inheriting the Trade”

  1. Ann Bartow says:

    Kind if a random response but I am reading and enjoying a book that might interest you (if you aren't already aware of it):
    Sacred Hunger, by Barry Unsworth

  2. James says:

    Thanks, Ann. I hadn't run across that novel, and it looks fascinating.

    I'm also going to pass this along to Tom, who I suspect will be intrigued as well, especially given the book project he's just completed.

  3. Anonymous says:


  4. McCain’s family ties to slavery | The Living Consequences says:

    […] Today at the Huffington Post, Abby Ferber explores the parallels between McCain’s story and that of the slave-trading DeWolf family, as chronicled in Traces of the Trade and Inheriting the Trade. […]

  5. Tom DeWolf goes on virtual book tour | The Living Consequences says:

    […] readers of this blog know that my distant cousin, Tom DeWolf, has written a book about our slave-trading ancestors, the D’Wolf family of Bristol, Rhode Island, and our journey to explore the legacy of their […]

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