The DeWolf Family of Bristol, Rhode Island - Part III
The DeWolf Family Biographies
(Scroll Down for Biographical Information and Background History)

Letter to John DeWolf - April 10, 1825

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Mark Anthony DeWolf's Sons: James, John, William, and Levi


James DeWolf was born on March 18, 1764 in Bristol, Rhode Island. James served his apprenticeship at sea during the revolutionary War and was twice captured by the British. When James was Twenty Six years old, he became the second of the DeWolf brothers (after John in 1789) to reenter the slave trade following the Revolutionary War with his ship Polly in 1790. During the return voyage from Africa to the West Indies, with a cargo of 127 slaves, 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. James stayed away from Rhode Island for the next four years and returned in 1794 to face trial, but a newly appointed and sympathetic district attorney nol-prossed the indictment and he was never brought to trial.

When South Carolina voted to change it's law reopening the state to the importation of slaves in 1803, the Rhode Island Slave traders were quick to take advantage. In the years from 1804 through 1807, nearly 8000 slaves were carried into the port of Charleston by Rhode Island slavers. At least ten of these ships carrying slaves to South Carolina were owned by James DeWolf. (The Trade was legally banned effective on January 1, 1808 by Federal law.)

During the War of 1812, James outfitted 6 privateers including the highly successful Yankee. The Yankee captured 41 prizes during 6 cruises with a total value of nearly Three Million Dollars. In 1812 James also built and operated the Arkwright Cotton Mills in Coventry, Rhode Island.

James served in the Rhode Island House of Representatives from 1797 to 1801, 1803 to 1812, 1817 to 1821, and again from 1829 to 1837. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1819 and served until 1825, when he resigned. James DeWolf died on December 21, 1837 in New York City and is buried in the DeWolf family cemetery in Bristol, Rhode Island.


John DeWolf was the ninth child of Mark Anthony and Abigail Potter DeWolf. He was born on March 18, 1760 in Bristol, Rhode Island and married Susan Reynolds in 1784. He took an active part in the Revolutionary War and was captured and spent time as a prisoner on the infamous "Jersey Prison Ship." John was the first of the Bristol Merchants and the first DeWolf to reenter the slave trade after the Revolutionary War ended; sailing from Newport on September 24, 1789 bound for Africa on the schooner Nancy. There are twenty-one recorded slaving voyages on which John DeWolf either served as captain or as owner/co-owner of slaving vessels. 

There were many more unrecorded voyages undertaken by John and other members of the DeWolf family. After 1808 when the slave trade was outlawed the DeWolfs and other slave traders began to register their vessels under the Spanish Flag with Spanish Captains and crews. (Spain had not yet outlawed the slave trade.) 

There are several accounts that have John retiring from the sea and taking up farming in 1798. It is said that he was one of the most successful  farmers in all of New England. John built a home on Griswold Avenue in 1799. He served in the state legislature in 1808 and on the Rhode Island Supreme Court from 1819 to 1822. John DeWolf died on October, 10, 1841

The text of the 1825 letter from Captain Bennett at Liverpool, England to John DeWolf, which is illustrated above concerns a cotton shipment on one of John's ships and is reproduced below:

Liverpool   April 10, 1825

John D'Wolf Esq.
My Dear Sir,
I am happy to inform you that I have arrived safe at this port and shall sail in a few days for St. Petersburg. I have sold your cotton at 15 shillings 3 pence per pound which is a very great profit. It cost 151/2
cents as no doubt, but you have received the invoice as I forwarded it from New Orleans. I purchased the goods according to your memorandums at this port and at the lowest rate payable. I shall take particular care of the goods and keep them onboard the vessel until I return.

I am Sir, your hm servant,

Martin Bennett

Note: I believe the captain is alluding to some special cargo in the last part of the letter as he seems to go to great lengths to not identify what the cargo is. Also there is that reference to keeping it onboard.


There is not a lot of information available on William or Levi DeWolf, however it is known that William  had interests in at least 12 slaving voyages and Levi in somewhat fewer. It is also known that Levi was the Captain of the the brig Nancy on her slaving voyage in 1792. William was Captain of the brig Sally on slaving voyages in 1791-92 and 1792-93. William was involved in the trade until at least until 1818 with his schooner Sea Flower under Captain Ezekiel Green of Bristol. (The vessel sailed under the Spanish flag and listed Joseph Lopez as Captain.)

William was born on December 19, 1762 and died on April 19, 1829. He married Charlotte Finney in 1784. Levi was born on March 8, 1766 and died on July 18, 1848. He was married to Lydia Smith on August 19, 1792.


 GO TO: The DeWolf Family Letters - Part IV - George DeWolf Biography 

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Brown & Ives Letters
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