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Bristol - a walk through America's history, mistakes and all

Writing about Bristol will be difficult as my love for history and humanities' story is rich in this little town. I'll try not to get too lost in the weeds!

Brief History

Like many of the New England townships, Bristol was home of the Wampanoags Indians until the arrival of pilgrims in 1620. The tribe and the pilgrims developed a friendly relationship and shared the land until British Puritans, also seeking religious freedom, came to Bristol and formed the Massachusetts Bay Colony. After a long-time border dispute with the British Crown, Bristol and neighboring towns Warren and Barrington were offered to the Providence of Rhode Island.

Yesteryear marks Rhode Island and Bristol as the epicenter of the slave-trade, led by James De Wolf who I will share about later. Today, Bristol is known as "Americas most patriotic town" with the best and the oldest continuously celebrated 4th of July festivities in the United States. We decided to land here on the 4th to see if there is proof in the pudding!


We were thrilled to have Sonja and Darren continue on with us to Bristol and it was great having Darren take over my first-mate responsibilities! Sonja and I kept the crew fed and took on the role of relax-ticians!

Tad's long-time friend and sailing buddy, Jim who lives in Bristol, reserved a slip for us at the Bristol Marine Center (thanks, Jim! ) with amazing front row seats to the fireworks. The marina staff were gracious hosts in all ways and life-savers on our last day; a story I will save for another time.

Darren and Sonja rented bikes so we could all explore Bristol together. We biked into town one day and took the tender the next. The park system and roads in Bristol are the best I've ever seen, with paved bike paths through parks and dedicated lanes on the roads. We decided we'd like the Bainbridge City Council to take a field-trip to Bristol!

During our first day explorations, we came across a very old stone building. We stopped to take pictures and soon learned what is now the De Wolf restaurant, was once the largest slave-trading station in America. We booked dinner reservations for the next night and while the dining experience was one of the best we've had so far - and Darren and Sonja were great table guests - knowing that slaves once suffered and were traded in the very building we dined made it a conflicting experience for me. I believe it is important to remember the errors of humanity, so we do not repeat them. But, it's not always easy. Below are pictures of the outside stonework, the restaurant entrance, and a glassed alcove with historic pieces found (including a board with a shackle) when the building was renovated.

The DeWolf family was among the earliest settlers of Bristol. James DeWolf who, get this, later became a US Senator for Rhode Island led the slave trade. Not only did he lead this horrific time in history, but De Wolf was indicted for murder, alleged to have directed the death of a female African slave who fell ill. When determining the ships crew did all they could, he commanded her bound to a chair and lowered overboard. This apparently was not his only murder indictment.

Even after Rhode Island outlawed slave trading in 1787, DeWolf and his family continued to finance and command slaving voyages to West Africa, while at the same time, they joined local Quakers to lead the abolition movement. DeWolf invested in sugar and coffee plantations in Cuba, owned a rum distillery, Bank of Bristol, an insurance company and a cotton factory. He became the wealthiest man in his state. By the end of his life he was said to be the second-richest person in the United States. De Wolf became active in politics during the decades of the Federal Period, advancing and serving as US Senator to Rhode Island from 1821 - 1825. Guess politics hasn't changed much!

On an afternoon bike ride, Darren and Sonja discovered the amazing Colt State Park. This nearly 500-acre park brought us through wooded trails, a castle, waterfront, and my favorite...large recreation areas where family and friends came together for 4th of July picnics. As we rode through I was moved by the sense of community, our need for belonging, and the growth our nation has achieved over the last two hundred years. Like a slow-turning movie reel, the aromas, dress, and activities changed with a few turns of our peddles. There was lively Hispanic music and dancing in one area, Burkas and aromatic spices coming from the next, and beautiful African American families free to laugh and play. It was a moving and refreshing experience.

So, proof in the pudding, you ask? Yes, Bristol is probably the most patriotic town I've been to. The centerline of the main street was striped red, white, and blue (second pic), there were flags everywhere and American pride could be felt in the air. We enjoyed the fireworks from the bow of the boat and I will say; they were the best I've seen in a long while. The parade too was unlike any I've seen. Lasting over three hours, it was a marathon! Every branch of service was represented. In fact, the USS Torpedo docked in the harbor and the crew walked the parade! It was a nice mix of recognition, community, and fun. I'm not much for parades and could have been done after the first hour, but was glad we went.


First and foremost, a big thank you to Andy for the gift of staying at your wonderful marina and for the awesome work of your mechanics to get us back on the water!

Bristol Marine Center - Slips and Mooring

Contact: (401) 253-2200

Fuel: Not at the center, but can be delivered

Power: 110v/30A 220v/50A

Pump Out: yes

Fresh Water: yes

Wifi: near the office area

Other amenities: Water taxi to downtown, lockers, kayak and bike rentals, showers/restrooms, and ice

Other Services: This is a working yard, which luckily for us provides mechanical services. They were life-savers when we ran into boat trouble! They also offer metal work, yard services, hauling/launching, painting, carpentry, and winter storage.


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