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Join Us for a Screening and Discussion of the Movie "Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North," with Descendants of the Largest U.S. Slave-trading Family, Based in Bristol, RI

Filmmaker Katrina Browne (R) and a Ghanaian child on the ramparts of a West-African slave fort

Filmmaker Katrina Browne (R) and a Ghanaian child on the ramparts of a West-African slave fort

Filmmaker Katrina Browne, a descendant of the largest slave-trading family in the U.S., traced the geographic, historical and political legacy of her ancestry, together with eight of her cousins, to produce a documentary movie, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. It was shown on PBS, won the Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film and was nominated for an Emmy Award for historical research.

The DeWolfe family’s 1810 mansion in Bristol, RI

The DeWolfe family’s 1810 mansion in Bristol, RI

Since then, one of the cousins, Dain Perry, and his wife Constance, herself a descendant of slaves, have conducted more than 350 screenings and facilitated conversations in over 160 cities across the country, including many libraries and churches. Both active in the Episcopal Church, they will facilitate a discussion about the subject after the movie’s showing.

DeWolf descendants at the ruins of “Noah’s Ark,” one of five plantations owned by DeWolfs in Cuba.

DeWolf descendants at the ruins of “Noah’s Ark,” one of five plantations owned by DeWolfs in Cuba.

Traces of the Trade describes the DeWolf family of Bristol RI, who from 1769 to 1820 trafficked in human beings. Their ships sailed from Bristol to West Africa, with rum to trade for African men, women and children. Captives were taken to plantations that the DeWolfs owned in Cuba, or were sold at auction in Havana and Charleston while sugar and molasses were brought from Cuba to the family-owned rum distilleries in Bristol. Over the generations, the family transported more than ten thousand enslaved Africans across the Middle Passage. They amassed an enormous fortune. By the end of his life, James DeWolf had been a U.S. Senator and was reportedly the second richest man in the United States.

DeWolf descendants looking at family records from the slave trade,, including a whip and manacles, at the Bristol Historical and Preservation Society, in Bristol, RI.

DeWolf descendants looking at family records from the slave trade,, including a whip and manacles, at the Bristol Historical and Preservation Society, in Bristol, RI.

The film follows ten DeWolf descendants, ages 32-71, as they retrace the steps of the Triangle Trade, from the DeWolf hometown of Bristol to slave forts on the coast of Ghana to the ruins of a family plantation in Cuba, exploring the impact of slavery on America and its ongoing legacy of racism. Back home, the family confronts the thorny topic of what to do now. In the context of growing calls for reparations for slavery, family members struggle with how to think about and contribute to “repair,” questions that apply to the nation as a whole: What is the legacy of slavery? Who owes who what for the sins of the fathers of this country? What history do we inherit as individuals and as citizens? How does Northern complicity change the equation? What would repair—spiritual and material—really look like and what would it take?

The event is free. Due to the length of the movie (1.5 hours) and the time required for a post-movie discussion, the event begins at 6:00 PM and ends at 9:00 PM. We thank branch librarian Anne Smart for keeping the library open beyond its usual time.