Resources for Descendants Confronting a Family History Involving the Enslavement of Africans

David Pettee

Read one minister's journey to explore his slaveholder roots:

Thomas DeWolf

In 2001, at forty-seven, Thomas DeWolf was astounded to discover that he was related to the most successful slave-trading family in American history, responsible for transporting at least 10,000 Africans to the Americas. His infamous ancestor, U.S. senator James DeWolf of Bristol, Rhode Island, curried favor with President Thomas Jefferson to continue in the trade after it was outlawed. When James DeWolf died in 1837, he was the second-richest man in America. Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History, is the story of how the current generation of DeWolfes struggles to come to terms with their slave-trading ancestry.

  • A Family of Slave Traders—a General Assembly 2008 Workshop
    In his talk before a Unitarian Universalist (UU) crowd on Saturday, DeWolf read an excerpt from the book, and shared some of his experiences on his life-changing trip with nine other members of his extended family whom he hadn't previously known.
  • Traces of the Trade: a Story from the Deep North
    Follow documentary filmmaker Katrina Browne and other members of the DeWolfe family as they travel the notorious Triangle Trade—from New England to West Africa to Cuba and back to Rhode Island, where their ancestors were involved in all facets of a profitable and large slave trading dynasty. Leaders Guide (PDF, 55 pages).