James DeWolf business records, 1795-1904 (inclusive)

Content Notes

The James DeWolf business records consist of correspondence, accounts, receipts, bank books, certificates, estate records, leases and deeds, letter books, and an invoice book, dated 1798-1837, as well as a volume of accounts, dated 1883-1904, of a trust for his daughter, Josephine M. Lovett. The collection contains several accounts of DeWolf with Newport slave traders Gibbs & Channing related to the sale of their frigate General Greene to the United States Navy, and a letter from Walter Channing (1757-1827), a partner in the firm with George Gibbs (1735-1803). There is also proposal from Gibbs' son, future Rhode Island Governor William C. Gibbs (1789-1871), to purchase DeWolf's coffee plantation in Cuba in 1819. Included are a few letters from his uncle, Simeon Potter, regarding land and estate transactions, and correspondence with DeWolf’s brothers, as well as letters from Providence merchant Thomas Lloyd Halsey (1751-1838); U.S. Secretary of War William Eustis (1753-1825; Harvard AB 1772); Connecticut politician Samuel A. Foot (1780-1846); U.S. Secretary of the Navy Maholon Dickerson (1770-1853); naval officer Joel Abbot (1793-1825) and politician William Hyslop Sumner (1780-1861; Harvard AB 1799) of Massachusetts; Illinois Senator Jesse B. Thomas (1777-1853); New York merchant Jesse Hawley (1773-1842); Baltimore lawyer James H. Causten (1788-1874); and Joseph Anderson (1757-1837), the first comptroller of the U.S. Treasury Department. Among the topics of correspondence were business matters, insurance, and shipping; the Insolvency Act; the status of West Florida and Spanish possession; trade restrictions with Great Britain, defeat of U.S. General James Winchester (1752-1826) by allied British and Native American forces at Frenchtown, Michigan Territory, and other events related to the War of 1812; and the Nullification Crisis. There are also several letters addressed to Rhode Island jurist Benjamin Bourne (1755-1808; Harvard AB 1775); copies of letters from DeWolf to Henry Clay, and other merchants, such as Friars Morland & Co., whom he instructed to deliver port on the ship Charlotte to one of his plantations for use by enslaved people; papers related to the capture and condemnation of the brig Suwarrow, owned by Beverly, Massachusetts, merchant Israel Thorndike (1755-1832); letters and accounts of Rhode Island merchants Brown & Ives and Christopher Champlin (1768-1840; Harvard AB 1786); and records of DeWolf’s investments in the Bank of Bristol and Newport Insurance Office. An account of DeWolf’s estate with attorney Jonathan Prescott Hall (1796-1862), after his death in New York, included charges for attendance of multiple physicians during his illness, and Hannah, listed as “black nurse.”

Biographical Notes

James DeWolf (1764-1837) was a slave trader, plantation owner, manufacturer, and politician from Bristol, Rhode Island. James DeWolf was born on March 18, 1764, to Abigail Potter (1726-1809) and Mark Anthony DeWolf (1726-1792). His father and uncle, Simeon Potter (1720-1806), also were merchant mariners engaged in the slave trade. DeWolf joined the crew of a privateer ship commanded by Potter during the American Revolutionary War, and before the age of twenty became captain of his own vessel. DeWolf’s brothers, John, William, Levi, and Charles, and nephew George were often partners in his ventures, which also included establishment of the Bank of Bristol and the Mount Hope Insurance Company; both institutions helped finance and insure DeWolf slave ships. In 1791, DeWolf was indicted by a Newport grand jury for the murder of an African woman, allegedly afflicted with smallpox, while she was captive on a ship he commanded, but the case was eventually dismissed. His interests grew to include a rum distillery and several sugar and coffee plantations in Cuba. He also was a founder of the Arkwright Mills in Coventry, Rhode Island, in 1809, and financed privateer ships during the War of 1812. DeWolf was United States Senator from Rhode Island from 1821 to 1825.DeWolf married Nancy Ann Bradford, daughter of Rhode Island Senator William Bradford (1729-1808), in 1790, and their children included daughters Josephine and Abbey. He died on December 21, 1837, in New York City.