James De Wolf is a Dutch American who became prominent in his later years as a public servant in both State and Federal politics, and as an entrepreneur in cotton manufacturing. In his early years he was active in the Revolutionary War as a sailor, and was twice captured by the British. Following his naval service, he also was successful as a sea captain and trader, but not in honorable activities a will be described below.
Inn those early years, De Wolf was engaged in abhorrent slave trading activities. During that time "Over thirty thousand slaves were brought to the shores of colonial America on ships owned and captained by James DeWolf. When the United states took action to abolish slavery, he manipulated the legal system and became actively involved in Rhode Island politics in order to pursue his trading ventures. He served as a member of the House of Representatives in the state of Rhode Island and as a United States Senator, all while continuing the slave trade years after the passage of the Federal Slave Trade Act of 1808. DeWolf's political power and central role in sustaining the state's economy allowed him to evade prosecution from local and federal authorities even on counts of murder".
De Wolf’s served as a United States Senator from Rhode Island, from March 4, 1821 to October 31, 1825, as a Crawford Republican. He resigned from the United States Senate before his full term was up, probably because of his other, mainly business interests. His other more extensive public service contribution was in the Rhode Island State House of Representatives. De Wolf served there during the periods from 1797 to 1801, from 1803 to 1812 and from 1817 to 1821. During his membership in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, he also served as its speaker from 1819 to 1821. Later, well after his United States Senate service, De Wolf again served in the Rhode Island House of Representatives from 1829 to 1837, the year he passed away. So in total he served about 25 years in the Rhode Island House of Representatives.
During the Revolutionary War, when De Wolf was clearly quite young, probably just in his early teens, he served as a sailor on a private armed vessel. He participated in several naval encounters and was captured twice, but apparently quickly released, probably because of his rather young age. Towards the end of the Revolutionary War, when De Wolf was not even twenty years old, he became a captain of a ship, and it was during that period that he engaged in the slave trade.
In the War of 1812, De Wolf apparently fitted out one of his ships as a privateer. There is no knowledge if his ship had any encounters with the enemy. Also in 1812, De Wolf became a pioneer in cotton manufacturing, and built the Arkwright Mills in Coventry, Rhode Island.
De Wolf passed away in New York City on December 21, 1837. He is interred in the De Wolf private cemetery, Woodlawn Avenue, Bristol, Rhode Island.
De Wolf, James, [1764-1837],
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