Linden Place

By Catherine W. Zipf, The Bristol Historical & Preservation Society

Between 1800 and 1825, money from these operations flooded into Bristol, causing a significant building boom in the Town’s infrastructure. Most of Bristol’s exquisite architecture dates from this period and reflects the wealth Bristol’s elite families derived from the trade. Linden Place is one such house.

Built in 1810 by architect Russell Warren for George DeWolf, the large, Federal style mansion is set back from the street and surrounded by a black wrought iron fence. The funds to build the home – over a million in today’s dollars – came from the buying and selling of human captives and amounted to the equivalent of one year’s profit in the slave trade. George DeWolf continued to engage in human trafficking after it became illegal; Linden Place was built three years after the United States outlawed the slave trade. Among the four homes that Warren designed for other DeWolf family members, Linden Place is the only one still standing (James DeWolf lived elsewhere in Bristol).

For George, the trade was family business. He and his uncles financed, in whole or part, 88 slaving voyages, which accounted for nearly 60 percent of all African voyages that originated in Bristol. George’s uncle, James DeWolf, operated as many as 30 slave ships and brought an estimated 30,000 captured Africans to Cuba and the Americas. The DeWolf family’s political connections allowed them to continue trading in enslaved people after both national and international law outlawed the practice.

While the actual documentation is scant, it is likely that enslaved people helped build Linden Place. Once constructed, they certainly had a hand in its operations. The 1810 census documents two enslaved persons in residence at Linden Place as part of George DeWolf’s household. Their names remain unknown. But, despite the erasure of the details of these people’s lives, their contributions to the household were critical to upholding the DeWolf family’s lavish lifestyle.

Always a big spender, George’s dealings caught up with him in 1825. When his investments in English banks turned sour, his sugar crops from his Caribbean plantations failed, and his shiploads of Africans destined for sale were lost, George realized he was facing bankruptcy. During a December snowstorm, he loaded his family and whatever possessions they could carry into his coach and headed for Boston. From there, he and his family traveled to “Noah’s Ark,” his plantation in Cuba. While he would come back from time to time, Cuba remained his primary home for the remainder of his life.

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Linden Place. Courtesy Catherine W. Zipf.

Linden Place. Courtesy Catherine W. Zipf

The 1810 census lists two enslaved people in the household of George DeWolf. Courtesy Catherine W. Zipf.