SP2 screens documentary tracing slavery trade in the North


University of Virginia Library

An enslaved African man and woman (with child in arms) on the auction block during a slave auction in Richmond, Va., in 1861.

For generations, the DeWolf family of Bristol, R.I. stood for everything the town was proud of-–prosperity, American ingenuity and patriotism. Their descendants went on to become legislators, philanthropists, writers, scholars, and Episcopal bishops and priests. The family’s most prominent member, James DeWolf (1764-1837), was a U.S. senator and affluent merchant who was reportedly the second-richest person in America when he died.

But the DeWolfs held a dark family secret: they built their fortune by trafficking in the African Slave Trade. In fact, from 1769 to 1820, they were the nation’s leading slave traders. The family business transported nearly 10,000 enslaved Africans from the west coast of Africa to auction blocks in Southern cities, Cuba and other Caribbean ports.

“Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North” is an award-winning documentary that explores the DeWolfs' key role in America’s shameful legacy of slavery. The film was produced, written and directed by Katrina Browne, a seventh-generation descendant of Mark Anthony DeWolf, the family’s first slave trader.

On Tuesday, Oct. 4, the School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), in conjunction with the African-American Resource Center (AARC), Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and the Association of Black Social Workers, is co-sponsoring a screening of “Traces of the Trade” from 5 to 7 p.m. in Bodek Lounge in Houston Hall.


Elly Hale

Katrina Browne at Cape Coast Castle, Ghana, in a room where slave ship captains, including her ancestors, negotiated to purchase Africans.

“A film like this has the ability to foster dialogue and really stimulate discussions that can build bridges between races,” says Valerie Dorsey Allen, director of the AARC. 

After the screening, Dain Perry, a DeWolf descendent, and his wife, Constance, will host a discussion to facilitate reconciliation and healing.

“Racism continues to be a significant problem in this country, and we have a difficult time having an open and honest conversation about it,” Perry says. “By looking back to its origins, we can better understand it.”

Richard Gelles, dean of SP2, says the documentary provides “a rich opportunity to engage in a dialogue about race and the legacy of slavery in the United States.”

The screening is free and open to the public. RSVPs on the event’s Facebook page are requested. For more information, contact Jill DiSanto-Haines at 215-898-4820 or email jdisanto@upenn.edu.  

Originally published on September 29, 2011