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June 24th, 2008

Dear Lord

Cold and Hard
    Tonight I watched "Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North" on PBS' POV documentary series. Y'all may have watched it, too. It's about a young film maker's experience, with nine of her relatives, of learning about, and dealing with, their family's roots in slave trading. If you haven't seen it, you can read at least a little about it here.
    The name of the slaver family was DeWolf. Operating out of Bristol, Rhode Island, three DeWolf generations traded the classic triple threat: African people - kidnap victims - bought and pulled from the dungeons of the Ghanaian coastal slave forts, shipped to Cuba and sold for sugar and molasses; sugar and molasses then shipped, along with some of the kidnap victims, back to Bristol, where the people were sold and the molasses was made into rum; rum sent back to Africa to pay for another round of victims.
    One of the film's indelibly uncomfortable messages was that the DeWolfs weren't alone in their connection to slavery; every family in Bristol depended on the slave trade. Coopers built the barrels for the rum; iron-mongers fashioned the shackles and fetters to bind fellow human beings over for sale; storekeepers sold the goods that the DeWolf enterprise brought in and made possible; people used and drank sugar and coffee brought to these shores courtesy, directly or indirectly, of the slave trade.
    It made my nerves jump and my gut uneasy.
    I grew up in a town called Wolfville, in Nova Scotia. It has a very tiny port, not operative when I was growing up, but once upon a time, in the 19th century, it took ocean-going ships. I remember, vaguely, hearing that the ships used to bring in molasses.
    Wolfville used to be called Mud Creek, until it was renamed, after one of its leading citizens, Judge Elisha DeWolfe.
    And now I want to look into the history of my little town, home of Acadia University (a Baptist institution, which reminds me uncomfortably of Bristol's Episcopalian presence in the DeWolf tradition), proud upholder of liberal academic traditions, and all round nice place to live.
    There's probably no connection.
    I don't feel very good.

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