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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History

Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History

2 Ratings: 3.0
A book

A trailblazing memoir about one family's quest to face its slave-trading past, and an urgent call for reconciliation.  In 2001, Thomas DeWolf discovered that he was related to the most successful slave-trading family in U.S. history, responsible … see full wiki

Author: Thomas Norman DeWolf
Genre: History
Publisher: Beacon Press
Date Published: January 2, 2008
1 review about Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family...

For me the truth lies somewhere in between.

  • Nov 28, 2008
  • by
Most people who have taken the time to review Thomas DeWolf's "Inheriting The Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave Trading Dynasty in U.S. History" give this book extremely high marks. Reviewer Linda Pagliuco begs to differ. She deemed the book worthy of a mere two stars and opined that the book "reminds me of those self-indulgent, melodramatic "encounter groups" that were so popular in the 1970's. Let's beat up on each other for things we never did, just for being who we are." This is a fair point but I cannot dismiss this story altogether. Rather, I applaud the DeWolf family for participating in this ambitious project with the goal of discovering for themselves the horrible truths surrounding how the family fortune was made. In documenting the group's emotional journey from Bristol RI to West Africa and then back to Cuba, Thomas Dewolf offers his readers unique insights into how the nasty business of the Triangle Trade was conducted. Even though I have read a couple of other books on the slave trade I found that "Inheriting The Trade" presents this sordid tale of human misery from a very intimate perspective that I simply have not found anywhere else.

They called themselves the "Family of Ten". The members of the DeWolf family who participated in this project hailed from points all over the nation. Author Thomas Dewolf resides in Bend, OR and had never met any of the family members before. The group met for the very first time in Bristol, RI in July 2001 at the behest of Katrina Browne and over the next several weeks would embark on an adventure that would change them all forever. One of the objectives of the project was to produce a documentary film about the experience they were all about to share. Over the next few weeks the group would retrace the exact path of the Triangle Trade. Being a native Rhode Islander I was stunned to learn that more than half of all the slave trade voyages made from North America during this period originated from our tiny state. The book chronicles the group's trip to Ghana on the west coast of Africa where the slave trade thrived for so many years. The description of the conditions that these African men and women were forced to endure while waiting to be transported to Cuba and other destinations in the West can only be described as heartbreaking. Meanwhile, the same can be said for the deplorable conditions on the ships as well. While there was a pretty significant mortality rate amongst both the slaves and the ships crews it is truly amazing that more people did not die on these voyages. From Ghana the group moved on to the island of Cuba where they visited the locations of some of the DeWolf family plantations. Not much remains but all found it to be a very emotional experience. Although it took several years to complete the documentary film "Traces of the Trade: A Story From The Deep North" was finally released in 2006. Although I have not yet seen it myself I have been told that it a very powerful film.

At the end of the day I thought that on balance "Inheriting The Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy As The largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History" was a very worthwhile project. Perhaps because I hail from the Ocean State this one managed to hold my attention most of the time. But like reviewer Linda Pagliuco I could have done with a bit less of the group therapy. The story of the slave trade is powerful enough in its own right. If you know little or nothing about the topic at hand then "Inheriting The Trade" would not be a bad place to start.

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