Several months back, I participated in a conference held in Accra, Ghana and hosted by ASWAD. While attending the opening ceremonies I met two beautiful black women, Colette Eloi and Juanita Brown. Sista Colette has a dance company that performs Haitian and African diasporan dances. Sista Juanita remembered me from a project she co-produced, Traces of the Trade. Traces is the fascinating account of a brave effort initiated by Katrina Browne, a white American. Katrina, along with nine of her cousins, confront their legacy as descendants of the DeWolfs, reputedly "the largest slave trading family in US history."
Their journey follows a familiar triangular slave trade route from Rhode Island to Ghana to Cuba. The story is documented in Browne's film Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North and a companion book by her cousin Tom DeWolf, Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History. Several other members of the DeWolf clan have written books on related topics. I first met Katrina Browne and Tom DeWolf in New England during a Traces focus group meeting (2001?) and again in Ghana (2002?). Tom DeWolf, in his book Inheriting the Trade, recounts an impromptu debate on the transatlantic slave trade that I had with Professor Addo-Fenning, a historian at the University of Ghana. The debate starts on page 78 (or enter "shabazz" in the search box).
"If you're south of the Canadian border you're south!" Malcolm X
Katrina Browne prepares for her trip to Ghana (Traces of the Trade promotional clip)
The "Great Folk" of Bristol, Old New England (Traces of the Trade promotional clip #2)
Katrina Browne, Tom DeWolf and co-producer Juanita Brown interviewed on CBS
Arizona Public Media Traces of the Trade podcast:
A "secret relationship"?
The DeWolfs also have an entry in the controversial Nation of Islam book, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. To my knowledge, Ms. Browne has never mentioned anything about Jewish ancestry. I wonder if she is even aware of this possible connection.
"From 1790 onward, the slave trade of Rhode Island was chiefly in the hands of the brothers DeWolf, who were considered "the most active slave traders in Bristol." The Jewish historians have not explicitly identified the DeWolfs as members of their "race" though others have traced them to apparently Jewish roots. In James Pope-Hennessy's, Sins of the Fathers: A Study of the Atlantic Slave Traders 1441-1807, he states the following:
'Miss Abigail married one of her brother's supercargoes, Marc Antoine de Wolfe, a Jew from the French island of Guadeloupe. De Wolf settled down in his wife's home town of Bristol, Rhode Island, and sent several of their eight sons into the slave trade.'
The most famous of these, James DeWolf, was tried before a Newport grand jury in 1791, and found guilty of murder for having thrown into the sea a Black woman who had contracted small-pox while on board his ship. By the time the verdict was reached he had already left the state and was later elected to the United States Senate." Read the entire entry here.
Reparations? (this is actually funny if you are familiar with Professor Ogletree's work)
Tags:addo-fenning, cape coast, colette eloi, cuba, ghana, juanita brown, katrina browne, rhode island, slavery, tom dewolf