Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North

Institute History


Self-examination is good for the soul according to the saying, and the piercing personal and social introspection first-time filmmaker Katrina Browne conducts of her family history is a revelation because it’s far more than just a personal narrative. Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North is both psychology and history, the story of her forebears, the De Wolfs, the largest slave-trading family in United States history.

From 1769 to 1820, three generations of De Wolfs transported more than 10,000 Africans into slavery. Contrary to the myth of southern guilt, they were staunch New England Protestants, who received special dispensation from President Jefferson to continue trading long after it was outlawed. Browne wrote to more than 200 family descendants, inviting them to join her in tracing her family’s submerged legacy; nine signed up and take a journey from the slave forts of Ghana to the ruins of a family plantation in Cuba.

This past portrait is fascinating, but it is their encounter with a minefield of racial politics that prompts the film’s real questions. What is their personal complicity? Who owes whom what for the sins of their fathers? And what are the possibilities for reparation, both spiritual and material? In this bicentennial year of the abolition of the slave trade, Traces of the Trade makes a potent statement about privilege and responsibility.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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