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DeWolf Archive, 18th to 20th century. Note: Many scholars have argued that it is impossible to understand the wealth created in colonial and early national Rhode Island without understanding the state's dominance of the North American transatlantic slave trade. Among the many Rhode Island families involved in the slave trade, Bristol's DeWolf family was the most prominent. As a result of his extensive slave trading, James DeWolf (1764-1837), someone who represented Rhode Island in the US Senate, died as one of the wealthiest men in the country.
Over three generations, the DeWolf family's ships carried more than 12,000 enslaved Africans across the Middle Passage, and the family owned numerous plantations (in Cuba and elsewhere). Following a familiar pattern in Britain and New England, while the DeWolf family eventually diversified their investments to include manufacturing, banks, and insurance companies, the bulk of their fortune originated almost entirely in his family's trading of enslaved Africans and the profits derived from their labor. (For more information, see the 2009 Emmy-nominated documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, which chronicles the details of the DeWolf family's slave trading and the efforts of some members of the family to come to grips with the legacy of that history).
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