Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

Report from Charleston, South Carolina

Posted July 6th, 2008 by

I’m adding two posts rather quickly for a reason. Remember when wise people recommended that you not keep open containers of liquid anywhere near your keyboard or laptop? They were right. Consequently I am limited to blogging, or anything else requiring a computer, to when I can get onto one at a public library or the equivalent. So please excuse any typos. I only have 28 minutes left before I’m cut off here at the Charleston County Public Library… a place I LOVE by the way. Let me explain.

Lindi and I are in Charleston for a few reasons. One is that she lived here when she was a little girl. Her father was in the navy. We walked the beaches on Sullivan’s island where she lived five decades ago and we visited the graves of three of her sisters who died very young. It’s been a great trip for her to remember getting burrs caught up in her socks running from her house to the beach. She looks forward to speaking with her mom about more of what took place here.

I wrote in a previous post about what brings me to Charleston in connection with my book and Traces of the Trade, so I won’t repeat myself. Where the library comes into play is that the “Commission House” (a polite term for slave auction business) called “Christian & D’Wolf” was located at 18 Federal Street in the early 1800’s. There is no such street. The reference librarian located a book that cross-references old street names with their modern names/locations. Federal Street is now called Society Street. Lindi and I walked to the end of it, near the wharf, to see if we could fine #18.

Ironically, that address is now the site of a hardware store. It was built sometime in the past few decades. I’m told that none of the original structures that were used for slave trade businesses still exist. But it is #18. And it is close to what was once known as Gadsden’s Wharf–now home to the Charleston Aquarium and the dock where people catch a ferry out to Fort Sumter. I’ve seen newspaper advertisements from the Charleston Courier in 1807 for Christian & D’Wolf holding auctions onboard a ship in Gadsden’s Wharf.

What’s ironic about the location now being a hardware store is that the old D’Wolf Warehouse in Bristol, Rhode Island was the site of a hardware store for many years as well.

I also love this library because they carry a copy of Inheriting the Trade and it is currently checked out!

Lindi and I visited The Old Slave Mart on Chalmers Street as well. Also an auction house, this business was not connected to the slave trade. It didn’t open until decades after the slave trade was outlawed in the U.S. It traded in American-born enslaved people. It operated until 1863. This is an important place to visit, and to take your children and grandchildren, so we will remember the incredible inhumanity of the institution of slavery.

The Old Slave Mart is a sad place to be. We thought about visiting a plantation while we’re here, but I couldn’t do it. It was simply too much for this trip.

We capped off our time here with the book signing event I did at Waldenbooks in downtown Charleston–everything we did on Saturday, Gadsden’s Wharf, Society Street, The Old Slave Mart, visiting St. Michael’s Church where Dain’s and Jim’s father was rector for many years, as well as Waldenbooks, are all within walking distance of each other.

I’ve not done an event quite like this before. Waldenbooks is located in a busy mini-mall on Meeting Street. They set up a table for me in the entry hall. We piled copies of Inheriting the Trade on the table and I simply chatted with whoever came by. I had in depth conversations with dozens and dozens of people. It was wonderful. Many had seen Traces of the Trade on PBS within the past two weeks. Others had seen the previews or had read about my book. Many bought it. But it was the conversations with people that made this trip to Charleston one I won’t forget.

6 minutes to go until this computer automatically shuts down. So I’ll sign off for now. Lindi and I will make our way to Savannah, Georgia for a few days now before being reunited with all our children in Maryland later this week for our son Russell’s wedding to the long-time love of his life, Katie.

Back atcha when I can find another computer (remember, Tom, never, never place a cup near the laptop again…)

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Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry