The DeWolf Family of Bristol, Rhode Island - Part II
The Triangle Trade - Slavery Connection
(Scroll Down for Biographical Information and Background History)

Two Covers to Supercargo George West - Brig "New Packet"
From General George DeWolf - Bristol, Rhode Island

June 28 and June 29, 1825

The Slavery Connection

The colony of Rhode Island was by far the most active of the colonies in the slave trade and the DeWolf family 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 his grandson George, (Son of Charles). 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).

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.

In 1794, the Federal Slave Trade Act was passed, which prohibited any ships in the trade to be outfitted in American Ports. Slaving ships that were seized were put up for auction. However, slave trading merchants intimidated potential buyers and repurchased their own ships for pennies on the dollar.  

The schooner Lucy, one of Charles D'Wolf's slave ships was confiscated in 1799 and William Ellery, (Collector for the Port of Newport) sent the surveyor, Samuel Bosworth to Bristol to bid on the condemned ship. John Brown, (Providence Brown family) and two of the D'Wolf brothers, then paid a visit to Bosworth and threatened him with a dunking in the harbor in an attempt to scare him off from bidding on the vessel. Despite the threats, Bosworth arrived at the wharf for the auction and was met by a party of "Local Thugs" disguised as Indians and wearing blackface who carried him to a waiting sailboat and took him two miles up the bay where they left him afoot. The DeWolf's then arranged a bid on their own ship through a second party, intimidated the remaining bidders and bought the ship back at a bargain basement price. (SEE: 1800 William Ellery Stampless Folded Letter)

The slave trade was legally banned in the United States in 1808, however the D’Wolfs and others continued in the trade until the early 1820s. One of the methods employed by American slavers to avoid the law was to register their vessels with Spanish papers and employ Spanish Captains and crews. In 1820, Congress passed a new law which included slave trading as an act of piracy and was punishable by death.  By the mid 1820s, British and American seizures of slave ships and a lack of open markets in the Americas had made the trade unprofitable and the D’Wolf family began to diversify into other trades such as cotton. In addition, now that James D'Wolf was a U.S. Senator the family needed to appear a bit more respectable.

Between 1709 and 1807 there were 934 recorded slave voyages sponsored or undertaken by Rhode Island merchants, carrying over 106,000 slaves from their homeland in Africa. 80 percent of this slave trade was carried out from the ports of Bristol and Newport with Providence a distant third at 14 percent. During the peak of the slave trading years, Newport slavers owned or managed over thirty rum distilleries and over 150 slave ships.

James, John, William, Charles, George, Levi, and Samuel DeWolf were responsible for 60 percent of all slave voyages originating out of Bristol, Rhode Island in the years 1784 to 1808. Over 33 percent of the slave voyages originating in Rhode Island were carried out after the trade was outlawed in 1808.

The slave trade in Rhode Island was not simply limited to supplying slaves to the south and the Caribbean. Between 1715 and 1755, the Black population in Rhode Island tripled twice and by 1755, Black slaves made up 111/2 percent of the total population in the state. Most of these slaves were used on the farms and plantations in the Narragansett and South County areas across the bay from Newport.

The reality is that the economy of Rhode Island during the latter 18th and early 19th centuries was heavily based on slavery and the slave trade. From families such as DeWolf, Lopez, Malbone, Brown, Vernon , and others, which were actually engaged in the trade, to the cotton and textile mills that depended on southern slave labor for their products; Rhode Islanders played more than just a passing role in perpetuating the institution of slavery.

 GO TO: The DeWolf Family Letters - Part III - DeWolf Family Bios 

RI Historical Society
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

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