The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an article this evening, “A Family Confronts Its Slave-Trading Past,” featuring an interview with my cousin, Elly Hale.

Elly, whose full name is Ellen DeWolfe Hale, grew up in Reno, Nevada, and now lives in Seattle, where she works for the EPA. Elly’s thoughtfulness and compassion were strong assets in our journey and during our lengthy conversations as a family. For Elly, as for all of us, this is an ongoing process, and as the reviewer, Cecelia Goodnow, observes, Elly is “still visibly moved by her struggle to reconcile the consequences of her family history.”

Of the discovery that she is descended from easterners who were deeply involved in slavery, and her need to explore the implications of that past, Elly comments that “we are connected to the past and the future in ways we don’t realize.”

The reviewer singles out the director’s “quiet, somber storytelling” which “lays bare the tangible horrors of the slave trade” and conveys to viewers the “sense of disquiet” which DeWolf descendants like Elly were feeling. She also writes that the film is “powerful” and that “it’s impossible not to be moved.”

I’ll leave this post with Elly’s thoughts on the film’s ending, since I think these comments capture both Elly’s reflective and optimistic sides:

The ending gives you a hopeful sense, and the feeling that the distance between us is of our own creation, and we can fix that. It isn’t just about us. It’s about human blindness, but it’s also about the history of our American culture.

5 Responses to “Elly Hale and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer”

  1. Corinne Derringer says:

    I’m a DeWolf descendant, through my maternal grandfather, Herbert Nash DeWolfe, a son of William Willis DeWolfe (a minister of the Episcopal Church, who’d formerly been a lawyer) of Illinois and who was a son of Hannah Pearse DeWolfe of Rhode Island (born 1800), daughter of an Episcopal minister. His family moved to Washington, the Seattle area, where his adult children mostly made their homes. My grandparents lived in Tacoma, WA, where Herbert was City Attorney for a short time before emigrating to California. An Oregon cousin (I’m not sure of the degree), descended from another child of W.W.DeW. got in touch with me a couple of years ago, and it was he who emailed me after he saw “Traces of the Trade” on TV. I sent for the CD and found it absorbing, thought-provoking.

    Looking at the list of the descendants who’d participated, I wondered whether Ellen Hale DeWolfe is another Wm. Willis DeW. descendant, because of the similar spelling and her having made her home in Seattle though she was born in Nevada.

    Another member of the “Traces” group caught my eye: Ledlie Laughlin could be a brother (about 70 years apart!) to my grandfather, the resemblance is so strong. It must be accidental rather than genetic, as the relationship can’t be very close.

    I’m still thinking about the questions raised by the film. It changed my view of the distance and relevance of the past.

    Corinne Derringer

  2. Jim Perry says:

    Corinne, if I’ve got it right, it was William Willis DeWolfe’s father, Erastus DeWolfe, who is the DeWolfe descendant. That would make you a descendant of Simon D’Wolf, brother of the first family slave-trader Marc Antony D’Wolf. And Simon and his descendants were not slave-traders.

    That would make your relationship closest to Tom DeWolf, who was with us in the film and who wrote the wonderful book Inheriting the Trade.

    Erastus, by the way, was killed at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864.

    Jim Perry

  3. Corinne Derringer says:


    That’s happy news. I always thought I was one of those descended from Mark Antony; Simon, his brother, doesn’t feature in the genealogical chart. What was his occupation? Did he also go to sea, just not heinously to Africa? I had heard of Erastus being William Willis’s father. So was it Erastus who married Hannah Pearse? It would have made him a man in his 60s at the Battle of the Wilderness, unless he was younger than Hannah, which I doubt. I had been told elsewhere that my grandfather was descended from a Union chaplain who was wounded when he was on the battlefield ministering to wounded soldiers, and died later of the wounds, and wondered why it wasn’t part of our family lore, and doubted it also because of the age factor; how did a thing like that get lost in 2 generations’ time? I also remember my mother saying that her father’s branch of the family had gone to Illinois to disassociate themselves from the slave traders. The church seemed to be their calling through the 19th century.

    Are there any portrait records of Simon or Erastus in the DeWolf archives?


  4. Jim Perry says:

    Corinne, it sound like you want to get hold of the book “Charles D’Wolf of Guadaloupe, his Ancestors and Descendants”, written in 1902 by Calbraith Perry. It’s long out of print and hard to find, but you can buy a bound photocopy book of it on

    I believe that all we know of Simon is that he was born in Guadaloupe and returned to the U.S. to live with his grandfather.

    Yes, it was Erastus DeWolf who was married to Hannah Pearse and who was a Union Army chaplian who died of wounds after the Battle of the Wilderness. I show him being about 56 years old at the time of his death, and yes, it does appear that he was about 8 years younger than Hannah. There is a photo of a portrait of him facing page 138 in the Charles D’Wolf book, though it doesn’t come out well in the photocopies. I know of no portrait of Simon.


  5. James says:

    Corinne, you can also find an online version of Rev. Perry’s Charles D’Wolf of Guadaloupe, by clicking here. The illustrations, including the portrait of Erastus De Wolf facing page 138, aren’t of the highest quality, but it would at least get you started.

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