Contributing Writer

CHARLESTOWN – Far from southern plantations and the history of slavery that most know, graves lie scattered across Rhode Island. The graves of Lucy Tillinghast, Lucy Sweet, Simon Sweet, Dinah Auralt and Jack Auralt exist in a little area reserved for them by Pardon Tillinghast in West Greenwich.

In Providence the former slaves of Samuel Chace repose; Fanny, Rose and Phillis.

Those individuals owned by the Waterman family, given their surname and buried in Warwick are known to be Cholie, who died at the age of 90 in 1828; Prince; Parmalee; Flora and Cuff.

The Spink family laid aside a burial ground in West Warwick for Lucy Rooms, Luce Spink, Frances Spink, Betty Spink, 16-year-old Vinah Spink, 78-year-old Ceaser Spink and 25-year-old William Spink. In that same town, 61-year-old Richard Rhodes, a slave of Nehemiah Rhodes, was placed in his grave after freezing to death.    

In Westerly, Philis Jumbo lies at eternal rest alongside the Simeon Pendleton burial ground. Not far away, an African American named Gerand lies in the special lot reserved for him by the Thompson family which owned him. 

Seventy-three-year-old William Lippitt, owned by Moses Lippitt, is interred in Wakefield. In Exeter, “Black Thankful” Pierce, a slave of the Lewis family is buried. Another Exeter slave, buried there near the Morey family lot, has his cause of death recorded as being whipped to death.  

The Dockray family of South Kingstown had 25 of their slaves buried within grounds designated for them. Jabez Bowen, of East Providence, had 80-year-old Anna Bowen buried in Newman Cemetery with an inscription of her stone reading, “Thou a good master, I was a good slave. I now rest from labor and sleep in my grave.”

Unbeknown to most, the history of slavery does not stop at the Mason and Dixon Line. On March 5, from 6 to 8 p.m., Cross Mills Public Library will present a film screening of the Emmy-nominated documentary “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North”, by filmmaker Katrina Browne. 

The making of the film is the result of Browne’s discovery that her ancestors, the DeWolfs of Rhode Island, were the largest slave-trading family in America.

James Dewolf, an 18th-century politician and the second richest man in the country, was indicted for murder in 1791. While commanding a slave ship in 1789, he noticed that one of the female slaves on board was sick with smallpox. In order to keep the disease from spreading, he had her bound into a chair and the chair lowered into the water. DeWolf was later found not guilty as his actions were deemed by the court to be justifiable.

Financing dozens of slaving voyages, the DeWolfs are believed to have imported over 11,000 slaves to America.

Along with her cousins, Browne retraces the Triangular Trade while gaining and sharing an honest and painful perspective on the history of slavery in the north.

The library is located at 4417 Old Post Road in Charlestown. This event is free and open to the public.

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