Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North will have its broadcast premiere on Tuesday, June 24 at 10:00pm on PBS.

As I’ve previously mentioned, Traces of the Trade will be featured on the PBS series P.O.V. (“Point of View”). P.O.V. is television’s longest-running showcase for independent documentary films, and Traces of the Trade will air as the season premiere of P.O.V.

For those who aren’t aware, Traces of the Trade is a documentary about the slave-trading D’Wolf  family of Bristol, R.I. The film follows descendants of Senator James DeWolf and his family as they retrace the route of the triangle trade and debate the legacy of slavery and the slave trade in the U.S. today. The documentary premiered in competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Check local listings for broadcast dates and times on your PBS station, as schedules may vary.

11 Responses to ““Traces of the Trade” to air June 24 on PBS”

  1. Oliver W Johnson says:

    20 Mar 08

    Good Morning,

    First, let me say as a descendant of African slaves, I respect and applaud your family’s vision, passion and sacrifice in producing “Traces of the Trade”. I look forward to seeing your documentary with a hope that it may contribute, in great part, to the healing process I’ve begun, from generational emotional and physical impairment, directly related to what I believe was the trauma inflicted upon my descendants during and after American Slavery.

    I am a 46 year old African American, former lawyer, now in treatment for Major Depression, ADHD and Bipolar Disorder, consistent with my family history and unfortunately passed on to my children. Unemployed since 1999, my life is in shambles to say the least. However, in March 2005, with self-taught technology acument, I filed for a streaming video web-based utility patent and recently uploaded two related websites focused on African American related content: and

    To learn of your family’s project has been upliftng and encouraging, despie my circumstances. I thank all of you so much.

    Best Wishes,


  2. Ted says:

    Does your blog deal with anything serious or substantive, or is it all an attempt to justify your hatred of America and very misplaced white guilt?

    Just curious…

  3. James says:

    Ted, can you explain what makes you think that I either hate the United States or have some sort of white guilt?

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

    […] explores the parallels between McCain’s story and that of the DeWolf family, as chronicled in Traces of the Trade and Inheriting the […]

  5. bobbo says:

    I don't know where this might fit on your website but PBS is currently showing American Experience: "We Shall Remain" about Native American Indians. The Third Show, Trail of Tears, was about the Civilized Tribes focusing mainly on the Cherokee. Show developed a lot of sympathy for these natives. They went to the Supreme Court and got rulings upholding their right to land in Georgia but President Jackson ignored the SC ruling: "The Court has ruled, now let them try to enforce it." I knew the saying, but didn't know the context.

    So on many levels, yes of course the Indians were treated worse than Africans in American AND have a greater legal claim to cash reparations.

    Of "infinite" interest is the "Civilized Nations" kept Black Slaves. This just blows my mind! Then to put another twist on the tale, the Seminoles also kept Black Slaves but they did so in order to prevent these runaways from being returned to White Masters and as a Black Seminole Slave, they lived the lives of the other Seminoles as second class citizens unless they also married Seminoles.

    Quick Review Here:

    Human Culture/History===complicated.

  6. James says:

    I couldn't agree more, bobbo, that the experience of Native Americans has been a very difficult one, and in many ways parallels that of black Americans. One of the central messages of Traces of the Trade and of my own presentations, in fact, is that many distinct groups in American society have endured abuse and discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity.

    However, I don't believe we can say that "of course the Indians were treated worse than Africans." Can you really say that losing your land and your livelihood is worse than being enslaved for life? This is an oversimplification, of course, and experiences varied widely, but in general I don't believe this is a valid or a useful comparison.

    History is indeed complicated, and it is precisely those complications which can illuminate our past and our present. For instance, the complication that black slaves were kept by American Indian tribes can tell us much about the nature of slavery and oppression. These phenomena were never as simple as many people would like to believe, and among other issues, race did not play an obvious role. Nor did the experience of being oppressed prevent groups from abusing others, and this experience may even have encouraged such behavior.

    These same lessons are also taught, I believe, by the under-appreciated fact that African slaves were captured and sold entirely by other African societies. This is not in any way an excuse for the institution of American slavery, of course, but it does help us to understand what happened and why.

  7. bobbo says:

    Certainly it is partly "a game" to rank order the cruelty of man towards man, but maybe some useful residue will be found? I think it is more cruel to be killed than to be enslaved. Maybe just the opposite and it is only more impactful to be killed rather than enslaved?

    When I said treatment of Indians was worse, I was mainly thinking the Indian treatment was in most instances a complete genocide, of the people and the cultures and a dispossession of their land and history. Not true of the Africans as their homeland cultures continued. Also relevant to me is the extra injury of broken written promises, again this happened to Indians and not Blacks.

    Of interest is that the individual indians who kept slaves were mostly of mixed/white heritage. I don't think Indians should get much blame in the mix of things.

    Money corrupts doesn't it?

  8. James says:

    I think it is more cruel to be killed than to be enslaved.

    This leaves you, bobbo, trying to weigh the killing of some, but not most, American Indians against the enslavement of all American slaves. Most Indians faced hardships and loss, but weren't killed by white settlers or, later, by U.S. forces. Or is this even the proper way to weigh killing against enslavement? I think you see the problem.

    I was mainly thinking the Indian treatment was in most instances a complete genocide

    I can appreciate that, bobbo, but it wasn't a "complete genocide." Most American Indians were not killed.

    The displacement of peoples, destruction of culture and abrogation of treaties, of course, were horrific developments. How they could be weighed against enslavement and an answer calculated, however, I don't know.

    Not true of the Africans as their homeland cultures continued.

    Actually, bobbo, the enslaved Africans were, indeed, stripped of their cultures, languages, and religions, as well as dispossessed from their lands.

    I doubt it was of much comfort to them that, back in Africa, members of other societies, who happened also to be black, were still enjoying such privileges.

    I don’t think Indians should get much blame in the mix of things.

    I suppose we could consider the hardship suffered by Indians in judging their willingness to profit from the enslavement of others on a large scale.

    But then, wouldn't we have to extend the same courtesy to other peoples who kept slaves?

    Money corrupts doesn’t it?

    Indeed it does. I happen to think that this explains slavery in all of the contexts in which I've learned about it, certainly in the case of the Europeans, Americans, Africans, and Native Americans involved in Atlantic slavery.

  9. bobbo says:

    FYI–this show has been on in Sacramento Ca at least once before because I have it on tape. I'm thinking of watching it again before June 24 having enjoyed the stimulus of this website.

    James–is there any idea, concept, statement, situation in the PBS show that you think would warrant a comment on or a directing of my attention to? Any trivia type comments that a viewer would not know just looking at the show?

  10. James says:

    Bobbo, there are many aspects of the documentary which, in my view, warrant comments or additional information.

    If I'm going to offer a general comment, I think perhaps the best thing to say would be to note that not everything is as it appears. The film focuses on Katrina's perspective on race, for instance, since she is the film's director and narrator. You see glimpses of different opinions from the rest of us, but no comprehensive look at how we view race, slavery, or contemporary social issues.

    Many viewers have felt that the film implies that those of us in the film come from wealthy backgrounds, for instance, or that we share Katrina's feelings about being white. There are moments in the film which seem to say that we've all inherited money, gone to Ivy League schools, or feel guilty about our ancestry. None of this is true.

    So I think it's important to view the film with an open mind. It's not intended to reflect our backgrounds, experiences, or views, and it's certainly not intended to tell viewers what to think about the topics which Katrina raises. It's intended to provoke thought and discussion.

    Beyond that, bobbo, I'd leave it to you to judge for yourself, and then to ask questions or raise issues. I'm always happy to respond to what you see in the film, to answer questions or to clarify what you've seen.

  11. Joan Bowser says:

    Dear James,

    I have just today found your website and have an older article written by Katrina which my Mother sent to me from my previous home on Cape Cod. I would very much like to view the film, "Traces of the Trade; A Story from the Deep North", online if that is possible. Could you advise me?

    I now live in a very racist society and am trying desperately to live here with as full an understanding of racism (developed strictly for reasons of economic gain here as well, in Barbados)and more importantly from the standpoint of the recognition of behaviors due to "Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome" as explained by Dr. Joy DeGruy Leary in her book by the same name. She came here in 2002 for a conference on examining racism which the press here renounced harshly. I have been following the journey of the Amistad and feel so strongly that it continues in the press. In March of 2009 I found her moored in a "secret" place on the west coast of Barbados before her presence was announced and made available for Barbadians to view, board and appreciate the significance of her powerful message.

    Thank you for all the important work in which you are involved.

    Gratefully yours, Joan Bowser

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