Family Business/Family Secrets

chinese opium resized

[1800’s Chinese rice-paper painting of a “cloud couch” (used for smoking opium) in a Chinese home : a Wild family heirloom.]

Saturday, I drove to Bristol, Rhode Island to spend some precious, one-to-one time with my twenty-year-old nephew, a student at Roger Williams University. My first time there, he showed me around the campus; touring the glitzy Global Heritage Hall, he referred to Bristol’s slaving trade history—in the way only a principled young man can bring up such a charged subject: with pain, horror, and outrage behind his widened eyes. Global heritage, indeed!

And I immediately remembered “Traces of the Trade: A Story of The Deep North,” an excellent documentary I’d seen years ago re the DeWolf family and its incredibly lucrative slave-trading “family business,” a film so powerful and eye-opening that my own horror—and realization that many New England families were very much complicit in this national shame—is still with me.

What hadn’t stayed with me was the name of the DeWolfs’ hometown. So while driving through the charming and well-appointed seaside village of Bristol before arriving at the Roger Williams campus, I had not thought: this wealth is the result of slavery! But going back into town for lunch, I saw that waterfront resort through informed eyes.

Which begs the question: what about my own New England family? Were Wilds (and Horries and Coghills and Miricks  and Faulkners and . . .) complicit? And it seems to me that the Truthful/spiritual answer is: of course! In some way, large or small, all 18th and 19th century white families in New England were complicit, tainted; all had benefitted by slavery in some way. Family business, family secrets, indeed!

A Prayer: May that acknowledgement light my way.

A final note: That accompanying rice painting is one of a set of three hand-painted Chinese scenes that had been given to me by my Aunt Amy ( Prescott Wild Zlotnick) in 1980; they’ve hung on a hallway wall for years and years. But one day, prompted by that opium pipe and “Traces of the Trade,” I became curious: did my family have another, more explicit dark secret? Did we have anything to do with the opium trade? The rice paintings had been brought back from China by Isabella Faulkner Ranlett, the wife of a clipper ship captain, Charles A. Ranlett, Jr. Belle, who died in China, had been the sister of my great grandmother, Amy Faulkner Wild. Had Belle’s husband’s clipper ship, The Surprise,* delivered opium? Had Belle known?

Answer: It seems not for 2 reasons: a) the dates when that ship sailed the China seas and the (again, incredibly lucrative) period when the British and Americans sold opium to the Chinese do not align [see Jay Dolin’s excellent When America First Met China for an excellent account) and b) probably not since, unlike other New England families of that era, like the Delanos and the Forbes and the Cabots, my family isn’t that rich!

  • This link, re the Delano family aboard The Surprise, briefly and covertly acknowledges the source of their wealth!





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1 Comment

  1. Dear Patricia,

    Hi, there, Patricia, my so, so very For Always dearly special and dearly precious For Always sisterfriend Christian white woman who you are so, so very much!!!!!! Sister, wow, wow, wow and wow and wow and a zillion wows here, Patricia!!!!!! Sister, this absolutely beautiful, brilliantly honest blog post article just went straight to this black woman’s very, very heart, and I am so honored, blessed, moved, and touched in my very heart by your so, so very lovingly heartfelt and sensitively caring honesty and your blessed integrity in sharing so honestly and openly about your so, so very dear, precious, and beloved family and ancestors, and about the others in New England and that troubled history of being complicit with slavery, sister!!!!! Yay!!!!!! Sister, some of my ancestors were slaves. Sister, your young nephew sounds like such a so very dear, wonderful, and great young man who is very much indeed very principled, and he has such a wondrously wonderful person and aunt in YOU, sister, because you are such a joy and a blessing, and such an undaunted white anti-racist woman who in such a diligent and conscientious manner works on racism and white privilege in so loving me and your other sisters and brothers who are nonwhite, sisterfriend!!!!! Yay!!!!!!

    Sister, what an absolutely amazing blog post article this is, and the title is just perfect in complementing how you bare your very heart and soul here in this so brilliantly honest reflection, and the picture of the painting which is a Wild family heirloom just so perfectly adds to perfection to this absolutely fantastic blog post article!!!!!! Sisterfriend, in my very, very heart, and very, very heart, mind, soul, and spirit, I so, so very much love YOU, my so, so very For Always precious white sister, Patricia, and I also so, so very much love all white persons as my so very dearest and darling sisters and brothers as children of our So, So Very Sweet Spirit, and there is absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing-not even continuing and ongoing racism against me as a black person and a black woman that will ever, ever make me stop loving YOU, my sisterfriend Patricia, and other marvelous white persons!!!!!! I so understand in my very, very heart, and my very, very heart , mind, soul, and spirit the very hurting place where some of your ancestors and other white persons are coming from when they have done hurtful, injurious, and oppressive things. I can be firm in resisting oppression and stand up for myself, but I will For Always have such a deeply sincere love for all white persons, very, very especially white women as the black woman who I am for You, Patricia, my local white sisterfriends, and other white women are my very, very heart, sister!!!!!!!

    Despite any racism, oppression, and discrimination which has happened against me and that I know will still continue to happen, my friend, I will For Always have such complete love, complete trust, and complete confidence in white people that each of you has such great and actual potential for such great and positive optimistic good!!!!! I will never ever give up on all of you as white people and my sisters and brothers as our Good Spirit God’s children, and even with ongoing and continuing racism, oppression, and discrimination, and even when some of your ancestors, and other white people’s ancestors have done wrong, I will For Always love all of you as white people who have such great good inside!!!!!! Sister, I truly think, feel, and believe in my very, very heart, and my very, very heart, mind, soul, and spirit that even when some of your ancestors, sister, and other white persons’ ancestors have done wrong, that that does not mean that YOU, sister, and other white persons currently living are a reflection of your ancestors!!!!!! Each and every one of you, sisterfriend, as white persons currently living have such sweetly great and powerful potential for such potential and actual great good, and each and every one of you are not your ancestors, and can do such great good that proves to be so vastly different from what your ancestors did for certain, sister!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!! Sister, I had to speak in my words from my very, very heart and spirit, Patricia!!!!!! I’ll never ever stop loving YOU, sister, and other white persons, Patricia, and it doesn’t matter to me what some of your ancestors and other white persons’ ancestors did in the past-I so love and believe in and have faith in all of you as white persons, sister, and I truly think, feel, and believe that with your potential for such positive and actual good that each and every one of you as white persons can be active, anti-racist participants in learning, growing, healing, finding yourselves, and making for a more just and fair, equitable country, society, and world, sister!!!!!!! Each of you as astounding white persons can do things so much in a different manner than your ancestors did, and I believe in all of you, and that you won’t make the same harm and mistakes that your ancestors did, sister!!!!!! Yay yay yay yay, Patricia!!!!!!! I just think so, so very highly of YOU, my so, so very special white sisterfriend, Patricia, and of other splendid white persons, my friend!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!

    Sister, please have such a wondrously wonderful Wednesday, weekend and week coming up next week, and may all of your days be so, so very especially blessed, Patricia!!!!!! I thank-you as well so, so very much for these remarkable, very informative and interesting links which you have so, so very graciously and generously provided here, Patricia!!!!!! Patricia, YOU are my very, very joy and blessings, my sisterfriend!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!

    Very Warmly and Sincerely For Always, my so, so very For Always special sisterfriend Christian Quaker white woman who you are For Always so, so very much, Patricia, with such Peace and Love To You For Always, my sister, and with Such Blessings and Even More Blessings To You For Always, my friend,

    Your sisterfriend For Always Christian lesbian black woman For Always in the very spirit and solidarity, Sherry Gordon

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