The Business of Slavery: Evidence of Control, Power, and Wealth

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Christine Mitchell, interpreter at Old Slave Mart Museum, Charleston, S.C.

Christine Mitchell is an historic interpreter at the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, South Carolina. She will reveal her research on the buying and selling of people of African descent in South Carolina and display many original documents found during her research. Many describe the relationship between Rhode Islanders and the southern slave markets. Peter Fay of the Newport Middle Passage Port Marker Project will introduce her, noting Rhode Island’s large role in the Charleston slave trade.

Ms. Mitchell is also affiliated with the Slave Dwelling Project (http://slavedwellingproject.org/). Mitchell moved from Atlanta to Charleston in 2012 to be near family, and is a third-generation descendant of slaves who lived in the community. “To be here, and to help educate people who are coming here from all over the world, I am giving honor to the ones that never had a voice,” she says.


Beginning in the 1720’s, Rhode Island dominated the American slave trade, carrying over 110,000 Africans across the Atlantic to the British Islands in the Caribbean, and to the mainland, mostly South Carolina and Georgia. After the War of Independence, Rhode Island slavers reached their peak, rushing to cash in on the trade before it was outlawed in 1808.
While no longer landing the enslaved in Rhode Island (except for some illegal landings in Bristol), Rhode Island slavers in Newport, Bristol, Providence, and Warren deepened their ties to the southern slavocracy, both in trading slaves, investing in southern ports, and extending family ties to southern plantations. Every sector of the state’s economy supported, supplied, or benefited from the slave trade.
In his historic study,  The Notorious Triangle, Jay Coughtry revealed that almost half of all Rhode Island slave ships delivered their U.S. slaves to Charleston.1)The Notorious Triangle, Jay Coughtry, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1981, p.167.
Newport Brig “Industry”, lands in Charleston; slaves are sold locally by Bristol, R.I. native Nathaniel Russell

As part of this trade, Rhode Islanders also placed family members in Charleston to extend their role to all aspects of the business of slave sales. Nathaniel Russell of Bristol, Rhode Island, became the largest purveyor of slaves in Charleston, managing sales to local buyers.  Henry DeWolf of Bristol, the nephew of the largest slave trader in America, James DeWolf, also moved to Charleston to cash in on the local slave sale business. According on one historian,

“In 1806 Henry DeWolf formed a partnership with Charles Christian, primarily to enter the lucrative business of supplying slaves to the Charleston, South Carolina, market. Between 1803 and 1807 Bristol firms delivered almost four thousand slaves, and DeWolf and Christian, acting as the family commission agents, handled more than $600,000 worth of business.”2)Debtors and Creditors in America: Insolvency, Imprisonment for Debt, and Bankruptcy, 1607-1900, Peter J. Coleman, Beard Books, Washington D.C., 1999, p.100.

Firm of Christian & DeWolf advertising sale of 100 “Gold Coast Slaves”, City Gazette And Daily Advertiser. (Charleston, South Carolina), May 5, 1807

References   [ + ]

1. The Notorious Triangle, Jay Coughtry, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1981, p.167.
2. Debtors and Creditors in America: Insolvency, Imprisonment for Debt, and Bankruptcy, 1607-1900, Peter J. Coleman, Beard Books, Washington D.C., 1999, p.100.