Traces of the Trade: The North’s Complicity in Enslavement


A man stands in front of the Djingareyber mosque on February 4, 2016 in Timbuktu, central Mali. 
Mali's fabled city of Timbuktu on February 4 celebrated the recovery of its historic mausoleums, destroyed during an Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and rebuilt thanks to UN cultural agency UNESCO.
African Peoples Before Captivity
Shackles from Slave Ship Henrietta Marie
Kidnapped: The Middle Passage
Enslaved family picking cotton
Nearly Three Centuries Of Enslavement
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Reconstruction: A Brief Glimpse of Freedom
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One Hundred Years of Jim Crow
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I Am Somebody! The Struggle for Justice
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NOW: Free At Last?
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Memorial to the Victims of Lynching
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The Freedom-Lovers’ Roll Call Wall
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Dr. James Cameron
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For a brief introduction to this exhibit, watch this trailer for Traces of the Trade: A Story of the Deep North. This film traces the journey by members of DeWolf family to explore the roots of their family's wealth. The DeWolfs owned the largest slave trading business in the country, headquartered in Rhode Island. The full documentary can be obtained here.

Insurance policy for the slaving ship "Lily."

Insurance policy for the slaving ship "Lily" on the first leg of the Trans-Atlantic Triangle. Newport, Rhode Island, 1795




Most Americans learn that slavery was a southern institution, but in fact, many enslaved Africans were held and worked in the North.

Many northern industries and businesses–shipbuilding, ports, banks, insurance companies, textile mills–were dependent on slave labor in both the North and South. Northern consumers were dependent on the products of this slave labor for food, clothing, and amenities like ivory piano keys.

In this exhibit, you will learn about the significant complicity of the northern states in the slave trade, slave labor, and slave-made products in the history of the United States.


Listen to a full public lecture by the authors of the book Complicity: How The North Promoted, Prolonged, And Profited From Slavery.

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  1. Fred Veilleux on July 6, 2021 at 3:52 PM

    I say that All Americans should be shaking the hands of African Americans and all people of color, and while shaking hands, with a genuine smile on their face, be saying… how’s your day going and I hope and pray you have a wonderful day, while thinking to yourself, what can I do to make some kind of contribution in deed to make a wonderful day for all of the people of the world, no matter what color their skin is, we are all God’s children!

    My God, to have put the beautiful people of Africa and the African Americans through 246 years of slavery and then another 100 years of racism and discrimination until the time Martin Luther King Jr. entered the scene in the 1960’s, in unity with the many other African Americans throughout history, who shared their bravery, their love, and their intelligence with the world, to right these wrongs of history- abduction, kidnapping, slavery, as well as the ongoing crime of racism, discrimination and murder, is an absolute outrage of massive proportions that defies the very essence of what it means to be a human being!

    There’s no way that the American society should be able to get away with living in this land without knowing 100% the factual history of their ancestors and the details of slavery, racism and discrimination in all its forms, (it could be difficult for children to be exposed to such things at an early age, but once adulthood is reached, by all means, it’s time to let the facts be told to one and all!

    The Age has come for the facts to be told, not for the purpose of blaming or to stir aggression, but rather, to enlighten the minds of America for the purpose of facing the truth of who we are as a people, so that we can all move forward with a collective common knowledge of our history!

    it’s one of the profound stories of human history and the World!

    Let us not forget! We are all of the same race, the Human Race!

    The knowledge of who we are could be the very thing that could save our lives in the Age of Global Warming and the Global Pandemic of the Coronavirus, Racism, Sexism, Classism and Inhumanity!

    No one should have to live in a society where one of God’s children should have to be looked down upon and experience the Inhumane treatment of being treated with the indignities of racism, discrimination, sexism, bigotry and unfounded hate!

    How could anyone in this country think American Indians and African Americans are the bad people and looked at suspiciously and made to feel like one has to explain themselves to the uneducated other in such a manner that helps the other feel comfortable or in control… knowledge is power and the Facts of history can clear the air so that we can all move forward with a collective common knowledge of our shared history!

    We all need each other to be on the same page, with the same understanding to able to survive the challenges that to come on a global scale, its now or never! There is such a thing called right and wrong!

    Don’t be on the side of wrong, make no mistake about it, it’s time to come clean and face the music- We are all the Human Race, Mother Earth is our Home- please Wake Up before it’s too late…

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