When Americans think of slavery, they think of the South, prior to the Civil War. But some Northerners had slaves and even were major players in the slave trade, including James Perry's Rhode Island ancestors, as he was suprised to learn.
Perry looked into his family's past and found it had been the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. He and nine family members decided to learn more about the legacy of their ancestors' work as slave traders, and Perry's cousin Katrina Browne made a feature documentary film about their journey.
"Traces of the Trade," which features Perry and his family, will be shown at 6:45 p.m. at the Watertown Free Public Library. Perry will be at the library to answer questions after the screening, which is sponsored by World in Watertown and the Historical Society of Watertown.
"The film follows Browne and nine fellow family members on a remarkable journey which brings them face-to-face with the history and legacy of New England’s hidden enterprise," according to the film's website.
In the film the Perry in his family follows the Triangle Trade, and looked for traces of their family's participation in the slave trade. The family traveled from the slave forts in West Africa, to the sugar plantations of Cuba and then to the distilleries of Rhode Island.
"The Triangle Trade drove the economy of many port cities (Rhode Island had the largest share in the trade of any state), and slavery itself existed in the North for over 200 years," according to the film's website. "Northern textile mills used slave-picked cotton from the South to fuel the Industrial Revolution, while banks and insurance companies played a key role throughout the period."
Perry works as managing director of the Watertown-based Tracing Center of Histories and Legacies of Slavery. He also served as the film’s principal historical consultant, for which he was nominated for an Emmy award in 2009.
The screening is open to the public and will be shown free in the Watertown Savings Bank Meeting Room at the Watertown Free Public Library.