A family confronts its slave-trading past

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Here in Seattle, Elly DeWolfe Hale was far removed from her early American ancestors, a wealthy, illustrious family whose legacy still colors life in Bristol, R.I.

Then came a letter that unmasked a shameful secret:

Hale's storied forebears, the DeWolfs, weren't just distillers and merchants, they were human traffickers who built their fortune on the slave trade. In fact, as Hale and other relatives were to discover, the DeWolfs were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history.

Over three generations -- even after the trade was outlawed in 1808 -- the DeWolfs shipped 10,000 Africans to the Americas to sell as slaves or conscript as labor for their sugar plantations in Cuba. About a half-million of the slaves' descendants are alive today.

Suddenly, Hale, who had grown up in Reno, Nev., and thought of herself as a modern, progressive child of the West, felt the national stain of slavery lapping at her heels.

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