Traces of the Trade
Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North is an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary about the complicity of the entire United States, including the North, in slavery and the slave trade. The film was produced by Ebb Pod Productions and the outreach campaign is managed by the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery.
Traces of the Trade tells the story of first-time filmmaker Katrina Browne's New England ancestors, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. At Browne’s urging, nine fellow descendants of her prominent family agree to journey with her to retrace the steps of the Triangle Trade. Slavery was business for more than just the DeWolf family—it was a cornerstone of Northern commercial life. The family travels from Bristol, Rhode Island where the family business was based, to slave forts in Ghana where they meet with African-Americans on their own homecoming pilgrimages, to the ruins of a family-owned sugar plantation in Cuba. At each stop, the family grapples with the contemporary legacy of slavery, not only for black Americans, but for themselves as white Americans. Browne pushes them forward as they delve into the debate about reparations. They also come face-to-face with their love/hate relationship to Yankee culture and privilege, and struggle with how to take public action given all that they now know.
The issues the DeWolf descendants are confronted with dramatize questions that apply to the nation as a whole: What, concretely, is the legacy of slavery—for diverse whites, for diverse blacks, for diverse others? Who owes who what for the sins of the fathers of this country? What history do we inherit as individuals and as citizens? How does Northern complicity change the equation? What would repair—spiritual and material—really look like and what would it take?
Traces of the Trade was completed and released by Ebb Pod Productions in early 2008, the bicentennial year of the U.S. abolition of the slave trade. The distribution of the film includes a national television broadcast, foreign sales, educational distribution, and home video