Katrina Brown in the Providence JournalPaul Davis, the Providence Journal writer who has previously chronicled Traces of the Trade and the history of the slave trade in Rhode Island, has a new feature story about Tom DeWolf’s Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Family in U.S. History in Sunday’s edition (available online now).

As we’ve come to expect from Paul, the story is historically rich and consistently well-written. While the publication of the book last month is the hook for the story, the article is devoted not only to the story of the family’s journey, but also to exploring the often underappreciated role of slavery and the slave trade in Rhode Island history itself.

Along the way, Paul provides an concise summary of Tom’s book which might as well have been part of the copy on the back of the jacket cover:

Although the book serves as a behind-the-scenes look at the film, it also offers something the film does not: a long deep look at one man’s interior journey. Mildly interested in the trip at first, DeWolf charts his every discomfort as he confronts harsh truths about his family, America and himself.

10 Responses to “Providence Journal on “The DeWolf Family Burden””

  1. Mike Martel says:

    Why not ask Captain Jim DeWolf what he thinks of the trade – and of Katrina? This interviewer did just that.


  2. dino says:

    Know that you know the truth about your families wealth how do you intend to correct this tragic event that your family took part in.saying your sorry is not enough to many have said that and continuee business as usual in terms of inequality in america.Your family should do something to help the black community of your area in a long term positive way.

  3. James says:

    Dino, I think that’s a great question.

    Those of us who appear in the film have been actively involved in addressing the history of our family, and the nation, since making the documentary. Because we are in this film, most of us have concentrated our efforts lately on issues related to the film. For instance, I’ve been showing the film to audiences in New England, especially to school, church and civic groups, and facilitating dialogue about the issues raised in the movie. I’ve also been working with the director on the film’s distribution and other outreach efforts.

    It’s probably worth noting that my family isn’t wealthy. In fact, I grew up with very little money. So if you’re hoping that the DeWolf family will be able to help the black community by providing significant funding, that’s not possible. Nor do I believe that it’s my responsibility to correct the mistakes of other people, or to apologize on their behalf, simply because I’m distantly descended from them.

    I do believe that I have inherited the same responsibility as anyone else who is born into, or lives in, a society rife with historic inequities. That responsibility includes addressing, honestly and openly, all forms of injustice, including racism and racial inequality. That’s true whether I’m white, black, or of a different ancestry. The fact that I’m white, and therefore share in certain privileges of race in this society, magnifies that responsibility. And that responsibility is even greater because I come from a family which, while not wealthy, does benefit from intangible privileges derived from wealth and social status in generations gone by.

  4. Sepia Noir Jenkins says:

    i would like to hear a rational explanation for the dismissal of reparations. Centuries of unpaid labor allowed a particular ethnic group to aggregate wealth while another ethnic group could accumulate none. Even after slavery in communities like Rosewood, and the black wallstreet of tulsa oklahoma where african americans tried to make use of the american capitalist system they were burned out and run off. I have a personal story of landowning black relatives whose land was confiscated from them. There are still “sundown towns” in america where blacks are afraid to be caught after dark and many blacks were run out of their homes and land. I am not sure how i feel about reparations but i’m not sure why someone who has seen the light about the damage done by hundreds of years of being held back would object to cash payments?

  5. sara d’wolf cr says:

    I am also a dwolf. The program on PBS went into much more detailed information with the family than even i was told of by my own father. I first questioned the family history of slave trading when i was a teenager. My father’s response when asked was to send me to my room. The feeling was Plausable Deniability if not acknowledged then it is not so. As a 17 year old at the time i have seen Linden Place before it became a muesum, and also saw the house that is now the Yacht Club. The show was eye opening as well as embarrasing to watch, but at least i know the whole truth now and not the fabricated truth.

  6. Mike Martel says:

    I think it’s awful that Sara was sent to her room for asking questions. But then again kids can be a pain when they’re insistent. ‘the house that is now the Yacht Club’ was a lovely Victorian structure known as Red Crest, it was built by the Wardwell family in the 1880’s – long after slavery was done in Bristol and the United States – and became the home of the Bristol Yacht Club in the 1950’s (the original clubhouse – now the Elks lodge at the end of Constitution Street – was gutted by the 1938 hurricane). So the current BYC home has no connection to slavery….Sara, I would send you to your room too for a.) nonsensical attempts at linkage (maybe because the word ‘yacht’ is in there? A little bit of ‘proletarian’ sentiment??) and b.) bloody whining. But I’ll tell you that the Club has a great bar – stop by some time and I’ll buy you and the other bleeding hearts a drink – unless you don’t drink. Unfortunately there’s no carrot juice or guilt soda on the wine list.

  7. sara d’wolf cr says:

    In response to your reply i 1.was not whining nor was i persistent in asking. I simply asked a question pertaining to the family history. I have nothing against the BYC as i only saw it from the outside& know it was connected to the family. No child should be punished for asking questions about their family history wether it be good or bad. Just so you know i am not a bleeding heart either. Nor do i feel guilty as you put, only ashamed that the family seemed to feel it necessary to exploit others for financal gain. Here is something else for your “bleeding heart” theory, i have 5 bi-racial children & 9 grandchildren. Guess that puts a crimp in your theory, huh. Just so you don’t assume a theory on that the answer to your next question no ,i didn’t have them to “GET BACK” at anyone.

  8. Mike Martel says:

    Ouch! I don’t have any theories and don’t really care about the makeup of your children, that’s your business. I still don’t see the connection between the Wardwell’s family home of the 1870’s and the D’Wolf family slavery business of the 1700’s, but maybe I’m missing something. You have every right to be embarrassed by your family’s history, but you still need to keep it in the context of the age, bad as it was, and try to leave the rest of us out of it. Trying to apply universal guilt to today’s whites and continuing to feed the ‘victim class’ myth for blacks will only create resentment and slow down racial healing – probably the opposite of what you want. If you feel guilty, well, you can keep it to yourself and those of you whose families participated in the trade. Trying to suggest that everyone else owes something and needs to start paying out in reparations is ludicrous nonsense. If you want better race relations in America, get over the past and work on today’s problems and keep an open dialogue. Break down barriers of bigotry. Wrongly imposing guilt and reaching for other people’s wallets is no solution. You can’t move forward while looking backward, but it seems that the D’wolfs, after all these years, still don’t get it.

  9. sara d’wolf cr says:

    I harbor no ill will to no one. I also don’t live in the past. Until the prgram on the family aired. i had not thought about these particulars in years. However i watched the program to learn what i didn’t know about the family. I certanly expect no one else to pay for or share in the shame of what this family did. past or present. I do agree with the fact while the family is very extended most of those on the east coast are in the privledged group. My particular branch was not. My own father is one who still doesn’t get it. My personel feelings after the program were “thanks katrina for airing the dirty laundry for all to see” Somethings should be left alone and only known to those who are directly involved. I don’t think their is any family who doesn’t have somthing in their family history that they would likr to keep hidden. So let sleeping dogs lie. No one in present day is responible for the mistakes of those who lived then. There is nothing that can be done to change the past now. Look to the future and try for something better

  10. RaiulBaztepo says:


    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!

    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I'v just started to learn this language 😉

    See you!

    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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