Tuesday, June 24, 2008

New England Family Largest in the Slave Trade

"The need to go on the journey was a deeply personal calling, and something I needed to deal with, but I probably wouldn't have made Traces of the Trade if I had felt like it was purely a personal issue." —Katrina Browne

Katrina Browne made a disturbing discovery about her Rhode Island ancestors, the largest slave-trading family in US history. In her film she traces the slave trade from her old hometown to slave forts in Ghana to the ruins of a Cuban sugar plantation.

In an interview with PBS, she said:

I was 28 years old when I got a booklet in the mail from my grandmother, who was 88 at the time. She was thinking about her grandchildren not knowing our family history. In the booklet, she wrote a couple of sentences about the fact that our ancestors from Bristol, Rhode Island were slave traders. That's when I first found out about this part of our family history. I later found out that the DeWolf family, the family I am descended from, was the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history.

My ancestors were from New England, and their slave-trading was a shock to me, given my own mythology about our family. I was shocked again when I realized that instead of being the exception, the DeWolfe family was just the tip of the iceberg of the vast complicity around slavery in New England.

Traces of the Trade follows me and nine other family members as we retrace the Triangle Trade route of our ancestors. We went to Rhode Island, Ghana and Cuba to come to terms with our family history and tackle the question of what our history means for us now. We tackle the current debates about what white America owes — apologies, and reparations.

Read the whole interview here.

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