Introduction to Stampless Covers
1825 Letter From Ship's Captain - Liverpool, England
To John D'Wolf Merchant/Slaver -Bristol, Rhode Island

Letter concerning cotton shipment on one of John D’Wolfs vessels
(Full Text of letter is in Part II)

The Bristol, Rhode Island  branch of the D’Wolf family (or DeWolf) first came to prominence during what was known as King George’s War, (1744-1748). Mark Anthony DeWolf was born in Guadeloupe on November 8, 1726. He was the son of Charles DeWolf, a wealthy merchant and slave owner on the island. Simeon Potter, a notorious Bristol privateer, slaver and merchant, originally brought the young DeWolf to Rhode Island as a clerk or private secretary for his many business ventures.

NOTE: DeWolf married Simeon’s sister, Abigail.

DeWolf’s first shipboard position was serving as quartermaster aboard Simeon Potter’s privateer, Prince Frederick under Captain Trowbridge in 1747. Although the war officially ended in 1748, both French and British privateering vessels continued to prey on each others ships. In 1756 Captain DeWolf took command of Potter’s privateer Roby. Historical records note that in 1757, DeWolf sailed from Warren, Rhode Island in a 50 ton sloop and that during this voyage; he captured a French vessel of 150 tons. DeWolf continued to prosper after he went into business on his own as both a privateer and slave trader.

The colony of Rhode Island was by far the most active of the colonies in the slave trade and the D’Wolf brothers of Bristol, Rhode Island were by far the most active family in the trade. The D’Wolf family's venture into the slave trade flourished during the years 1790 to 1807 under Mark’s sons; James, John, William, Charles, and Levi, and a nephew named George. There were a total of 109 recorded slaving voyages attributed to the D’Wolf family as either sole owners or jointly with other owners. (And most likely many more unrecorded voyages).

James was the first of the brothers to venture into the slave trade with his ship Polly in 1790. During the return voyage from Africa to the West Indies, an incident occurred for which James was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury for murder, but never bought to trial. Approximately two weeks into the voyage, one of the female slaves became sick with what was thought to be smallpox. D’Wolf initially had her placed on the main top, (mast) to keep her from infecting the rest of the slave cargo. When her condition continued to worsen; D’Wolf had her lashed to a chair and tackle, after which he personally lowered her overboard. (Of the entire family, James was the most heavily engaged in the trade.)

John D’Wolf, the recipient of the letter above, was also heavily engaged in the slave trade during this period and other than his brother James, appears to have been more involved personally than any of the rest of the family. There were 21 recorded slave voyages on which he either sailed as captain or shared in the ownership. (It should be noted at this point, that after the slave trade was outlawed, records were not kept and there were obviously many more slave voyages that went unrecorded.)

The slave trade, particularly as it concerns Rhode Island’s interest in the trade, was known as the Triangle Trade.”  Slaving ships left Rhode Island with Rum and other cargo for West Africa where they traded for slaves, which were then carried to ports in the Caribbean and sold. Sugarcane and molasses would be purchased in island ports such as Havana, Cuba and transported back to Rhode Island where local distilleries transformed it into rum and the vicious cycle would begin once again. The largest distillery in Bristol, (and in Rhode Island) was owned by the D’Wolf family. (There were also two large distilleries in Newport, Rhode Island.) Members of the D’Wolf family were engaged in every facet of the slave trade. There were D’Wolfs engaged in distilling the rum and D’Wolfs serving as captains on slave ships. Members of the family financed slave trips and owned 48 ships of their own in the trade. In addition, the family owned plantations in Cuba and in Guadeloupe where slaves were taken and worked when market prices were low. James, the scion of the family eventually became a U.S. Senator and the second richest man in America. It can truly be stated, That the D’Wolf family fortune was built on the backs of slaves.  

Go to Part II

Off Soundings - Aspects of the Maritime History of Rhode Island - Alexander Boyd Hawes 
Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade - Rhode Island Historical Society
The Notorious Triangle: Rhode Island and the African Slave Trade, 1700-1807 -
Jay Coughtry
Encyclopedia Britannica 
Encyclopedia Africana

SEE ALSO: The First Rhode Island Regiment (The Black Regiment)
Brown & Ives Letter - 1852

Stampless I
Stampless II

Stampless III
Stampless IV
Stampless V
Stampless VI
Brown & Ives Letters
The Hazard Family Letters
Joseph Tillinghast
Free Franked Letters
DeWolf Family Letters