It probably surprises few people besides myself that I’m fairly involved with local history. As an anthropologist, I’m perpetually of the view that all history is local, and that local history is global.
However, also as an anthropologist, I’m also well aware that the history we celebrate is a choice, and often one that wasn’t made on a personal level. Gesturing broadly to the entire world right now, it’s something that’s being reckoned with on various levels.
Rhode Island is one of the older parts of the United States. The thirteenth of the original thirteen colonies, it’s chock full of United States history (and far, far earlier histories, if you let things other than plaques inform you of your surroundings).
It’s also a super small place, meaning that that history is also super concentrated.
But history is both immutable and objective, as well as interpretive and subjective. We look at memorials and statues as the history itself, but I personally learn more about the individuals who built them, than that which they intend to commemorate. I would rather spend a weekend in a historical society basement putting a story to a name on a broken headstone than visit the statue of a man made larger than life by big fish stories, atop his gargantuan horse.
When I started Pedal Powered Anthropology, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit. Historical markers dot probably every main road in the state, and Rhode Island has the highest concentration of historical cemeteries in the country. I kept myself very busy with posts of everything from Race Riots to vampires to “this is where a small cemetery was relocated for the highway.”
I got sucked in, and as a result wound up producing Rhode Island’s Industrial Revolution—now super popular among Rhode Island history buffs (that sounds more impressive than it is…there are like 150 of them).
But my interests are always wandering in a region such as this, and I soon found my way to Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Bristol #5, also known as the Mark Anthony DeWolf Cemetery. It’s a small cemetery, but apparently fairly well-tended. In it are the graves of many members of the DeWolf family. A prominent name in Bristol, throughout Rhode Island, and likely elsewhere, the DeWolfs were responsible for essentially single-handedly financing the reconstruction of the town of Bristol after the damage sustained during the American Revolution.
They are celebrated still in the town, during their Fourth of July parade (the oldest in the country), with the name DeWolf popping up on street signs and estates. Linden Place, in particular, is a popular wedding destination, and was home to generations of DeWolfs, starting with George DeWolf, who built it in 1810.
The DeWolfs came to their fortune through the triangle trade. They were the largest slave trading family in United States history, and after the emancipation the family continued to keep slaves on their sugar plantations in Cuba.
So of all the places I’ve chosen to visit since starting Pedal Powered Anthropology, Bristol #5 seems an odd choice. The history of the DeWolfs is written on virtually every brick in the town, and so there’s little reason to visit the graves of the people who built it with the blood and suffering of others.
Except I wasn’t there to visit anyone of the DeWolf lineage—though two of whom I was visiting did have the DeWolf name.
You see, three of the people interred at Bristol #5 were slaves. Two were slaves of the DeWolf family, and the third likely was, but all that is known about her was that she was a “faithful servant.”
Their names are Adjua DeWolf, Pauledore DeWolf, and Judith Honeyman. Though not 100% certain, it’s thought that Adjua and Pauledore were purchased by James DeWolfe in 1803. As a Christmas present to his wife Nancy. It sickens me to type that.
My first trip there was in 2017. I was new to this and honestly was as happy that I had correctly located the cemetery as I was to be able to share the history.
I returned again on June 20, 2020, as a belated Juneteenth commemoration. What better way to honor the emancipation of slaves than to visit and clean the graves of two of them. Yes, two. There are three buried here, but only two have headstones.
Pauledore has no headstone, and it seems unclear that he ever did. It’s well-accepted that he is interred there, but the exact location of his grave is unknown. It’s been a sad piece of my memory since I learned of it.
On a 94 degree afternoon I climbed on my road bike and headed out. Grateful for the cool air off the bay, my Garmin bike computer read 78 by the time I had reached Bristol #5. The gate was closed, but not locked.
A small cemetery compared to many, I was pleased to see it still well-tended. Aside from those above, you wont be seeing any closeups of the majority of those resting here. Their histories are already celebrated enough. I’ve no interest in bolstering their legacy any further.
As I approached the corner of the cemetery where I knew Adjua, Pauledore, and Judith lie, I was incredibly dismayed by what I saw. This well-tended cemetery is apparently only selectively tended. Both stones were crowded by weeds, with Adjua’s all but covered in lawn trimmings.
The individual who had come to mow had blown the trimmings over Adjua’s grave, and never stopped to sweep it off.
Did they know her stone was there? It’s not easily visible. But they must have…the grass had been mowed around and behind it.
No. The just didn’t see the need. I seriously doubt any disrespect was intended. But at the same time…it’s clear no respect was, either. I brushed off the dirt and grass, and pulled up the weeds.
I had stopped at a public restroom to refill my water bottles, so I had plenty to spare. I walked back to my bike to grab a bottle of water, and rinsed Adjua’s stone as best as I could.
Wife of Pauledore D’Wolf
Died March 27, 1868
Aged 74 Years
I am still so sad about the condition of her stone. Here is the same stone in 2010, when the Rhode Island Historical Cemeteries Commission noted it as in “poor condition.”
And Judith Honeyman, whose stone faired considerably better but is no easier to read:
I believe it says Judith Honeyman, Died March 9th 1831, aged 70. I cannot make out the text underneath but I believe that it’s where the information “a faithful servant” came from.
I’ve since spent some time doing research, and I’ve reached out to the party overseeing the historical cemeteries in Bristol. My intention is to clean off both stones as well as possible, and also to repair and stand Adjua’s.
I am also trying to do some research on the three of them. I know nothing of Judith, and am not confident I can find anything. I know even less of Pauledore although I know knowledge of him exists.
Adjua I know a little bit about. From the documentary Traces of the Trade, I learned that her name is one given to girls born on Monday in certain parts of Ghana. Day naming traditions are common throughout Ghana, but I wanted to learn more.
I was able to find out that the name Adjua is an Akan name. Akan is a language that is predominant in southern Ghana, with variations spoken by a number of different tribes and ethnicities.
There’s a good amount of tribes and ethnicities in Ghana, and they all have naming traditions. However, as well as my (incredibly limited so far) research has turned out, Adjua (and a few spelling variants) seems to be related to the Ashanti and the Fante. Among those two, the Ashanti are a much larger group and the Fante were apparently more favored by European slave traders—and by that I mean the Ashanti were much more likely to be sold into slavery.
I don’t remember specifically, but I feel like my brain is telling me that I have memories of Pauledore also having come from Ghana. And so their ethnic/tribal groups may now be known well enough to bring appropriate gifts to their graves. It’s my hope that more time spent researching and hunting through historical societies can give me more clues.
I don’t know where this research is going to take me, but it’s worth doing. These people are worth commemorating, they are worth remembering and I hope to bring their lives back enough that they can be remembered in the first place.
If anyone who reads this has any additional information about any of the three of them, their names, what collections their information may be contained in within the Bristol Historical Society, please let me know as soon as you can.
This won’t be the last post on this, as it’s very much new and ongoing research.