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Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History Hardcover – January 15, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the summer of 2001, Katrina Browne led nine distant family members on their own triangular passage as she made a documentary film (Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North) about their DeWolf ancestors, the largest slave-trading dynasty in early America—who transported 10,000 Africans to America and the Caribbean between 1769 and 1820. DeWolf, one of Browne's cousins, traces the journey in this soul-searching memoir, beginning in Bristol, R.I., the hub of the late–18th-century trade, and continuing to Ghana, Cuba and back to New England. At each station of the trip, the Family of Ten visits historic sites, and distinguished historians address the group about aspects of the slave trade. DeWolf's account gains immediacy as he reports these presentations and the ensuing group discussions, along with their personal struggles to come to terms with an ignominious family history and his own sharp learning curve. His narrative, however, bogs down toward its conclusion in an irrelevant account of allegations of sexual harassment made against him and a digressive though thought-provoking discussion of reparations for slavery. Nevertheless, DeWolf promotes conversation about truth of the past and its impact on the present.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Exploring the links between a grand Rhode Island mansion and dungeons in Ghana, Tom DeWolf traces the infernal trade that gave his family, and this country, great wealth and power. His journey into the past forces painful questions to the surface and illuminates our present."—Henry Wiencek, Winner of the National Book Critics' Circle Award and author of An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America

"Inheriting the Trade is a compelling invitation to explore how our country and many institutions, including churches, benefited from this dark chapter. Such exploration is essential if we are to move forward to a place of repair and racial reconciliation."—Frank T. Griswold, 25th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

"Tom DeWolf’s deeply personal story, of his own journey as well as his family’s, is required reading for anyone interested in reconciliation. Healing from our historic wounds, which continue to separate us, requires us to walk this road together."—Myrlie Evers-Williams, civil rights leader, chairman emeritus of the NAACP (1995-98), and author of The Autobiography of Medgar Evers, Watch Me Fly, and For Us the Living

"Inheriting the Trade is like a slow-motion mash-up, a first-person view from within one of the country’s founding families as it splinters, then puts itself back together again."—Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family

"A candid, powerful, and insightful book about how one family dealt with the infamous slave trade. Jarring in its candor, and revealing in its honest assessment of slavery and the Dewolf family, we must read important books like this if we dare to appreciate every aspect of our history, and as the Dewolf family does, dare to change our judgments about the wretched history of slavery."—Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Executive Director, The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; First Edition edition (January 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807072818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807072813
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #971,545 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tom co-authored, with Sharon Leslie Morgan, Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade (Beacon Press, 2012), which won the Phillis Wheatley Award for best Nonfiction book.

His first book, Inheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History (Beacon Press, 2008), tells the story of traveling with nine distant relatives on a life-altering journey through Rhode Island, Ghana, and Cuba to film the Emmy-nominated documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, in which he is featured. An Official Selection of the Sundance Film Festival, the film premiered on national television on the acclaimed PBS series P.O.V.

The African American Jazz Caucus awarded Tom the 2012 Spirit of Freedom Award for Social Justice.

Tom travels extensively throughout the United States; speaking at colleges, universities, and conferences, and leading workshops and trainings for groups dedicated to social justice.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Hardcover
I thought this book was fascinating. Here's this white guy from Oregon who grew up in a middle-class family in California without much knowledge of his family history. He moves to Oregon, to an affluent, largely white town, where he encounters a distant cousin. Suddenly, he's thrust into a huge extended family with long ties to New England. Slave traders! His forebears were slave traders? Does he want to be in a documentary about the slave trade? Does he want to go to Rhode Island, Ghana, and Cuba to retrace the route of the triangle trade?* He does, and in the process his eyes are opened to places and ways of living he knew nothing about - and this includes not only the African and Cuban cultures but also that of privileged New Englanders. What an amazing set of events!

The author weaves together his own deep changes with description and reflection on the history of the slave trade and its continuing impact on our still racist society. The big idea is that white people in America are largely unaware of our own unearned privilege, and that becoming aware is one step in beginning the change to erasing racism. This book shows that it's a one-person-at-a-time effort, difficult but not impossible.

*Traces of the Trade, by Katrina Browne, Thomas DeWolf's 7th cousin once removed, if I read the genealogical chart correctly.
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Format: Hardcover
Many middle-aged people and those older get an urge to find out more about their parents, grandparents, and other ancestors. For most of those amateur genealogists, a little knowledge is enough. They're satisfied with collecting information about names, places, and dates of their ancestors' births, marriages, and deaths. Some family researchers delve deeper. Occasionally one even writes a book about his discoveries. Usually the books are ho-hummers interesting only to family members. Tom Dewolf got the genealogy bug and wrote a book but his "Inheriting the Trade" is far better than the usual. It's captivating. Part is due to DeWolf's collateral ancestors having been in the African-American slave trade, part is because DeWolf's done his research, and part is because he tells a good story. The tale starts out with DeWolf meeting cousins at a family reunion in Rhode Island. Soon we learn that they have slave trade ancestors and quickly James DeWolf, "a true scoundrel in every way," is mentioned. "He was a slave trader, rum runner, and privateer," says one cousin. Other DeWolfs are named and discussed. Then, with Tom's interest whetted and ours, too, DeWolf is off to find out more and tell us about his investigations of the mottled sheep in his past. "Inheriting the Trade" is a book worth buying and reading.
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Format: Hardcover
I have to admit that before this book, I never really thought about the effects that slavery has on our lives today. I always thought about it as this awful thing that happened before I was born. The journey of this family is truly inspiring. It is amazing to read not only the reactions of the family, but also the reactions of others to them. It's intriguing to read about what this family went through and one person's personal journey into a horrific piece of family, and American, history.

One of my favorite parts of this book was just before they were going to Africa and a cousin admited that one of his greatest fears was that it wouldn't come alive for him and his other fear was that it would. This book was that, for me. Through the eyes and words of Thomas DeWolf, it came alive for me. For that, I am grateful.
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