The Decline of Slavery in Bristol

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

Following George’s abrupt departure, many of Bristol’s banks failed as townspeople realized that George’s substantial debts would never be repaid. Indeed, the town went bankrupt alongside George DeWolf. Linden Place was stripped of household furniture and fixtures as items were auctioned off to cover his debts. Even the DeWolfs struggled through the next few decades. In the 1850s, Linden Place left family hands and was repurchased in the 1860s by George’s daughter, Theodora DeWolf Colt. It then passed to Theodora’s son, Samuel Pomeroy Colt, who owned it for many years.

George DeWolf’s bankruptcy heralded the end of the era of enslavement in Bristol; the 1820 census is the last to document any enslaved people in the town. But, things were far from equal for people of color. By 1830, Bristol’s African-American and Indigenous community, consisting of the descendants of enslaved people owned by families like the DeWolfs and Munros, had found a home in New Goree, located on Wood Street between State Street and Bay View Avenue. Many continued to work in the homes of Bristol’s elite families in relationships that paralleled the era of enslavement. Others found work in the developing rubber industry. With new opportunities generated during the post-Civil War climate, many of Bristol’s African-American families began to move elsewhere. By 1920, with only a handful of such families remaining, Bristol had largely forgotten this important part of its history.

The Author gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Lynn Smith to this article.

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The Maria Hazard House (left) in the New Goree neighborhood of Bristol, RI. Courtesy Catherine W. Zipf.

The Maria Hazard House (left) in the New Goree neighborhood of Bristol, RI. Courtesy Catherine W. Zipf.