George deWolf (continued)
Despite these laws, the period 1808 to 1820 was the time when the greatest profits and most inhumane cruelties of the slave trade existed. This was also the period of George deWolf's greatest affluence. General George had some problems even at the height of his power. When nine Bristol vessels were condemned as slavers, eight of them were found to be owned by General George. The information on these ships had been sent to Collector William Ellery by Barnabas Bates, who had been pastor of the Baptist Church in Bristol. Bates, who had been recommended for the position of Postmaster by Collector John Col I ins and three of the deWolf brothers, spied on the deWolfs who trusted him. He turned his findings over to William Ellery, Collector of the Port in the Newport District, who spent a lifetime trying to stop the deWolfs and the slave trade.
When it became almost impossible to smuggle slaves in an American port after 1808, George deWolf, and other slave traders, found it easy to circumvent the law by arranging for a false sale of ships to Spanish citizens in Cuba. As Spain allowed the slave trade, this enabled deWolfs ships to continue in the nefarious trade. Cuba seemed to be an insatiable market. It is estimated that on one voyage of the deWolf slave ship MacDonouqh, deWolfs captain purchased four hundred slaves for $16 each, sold them in Havana for $500 each and cleared over $100,000 on this single voyage. General George invested this money into a plantation of his own in Cuba, Noah's Ark, where he later came to live.
Eventually, the slave trade became less profitable and General George deWolf looked for other avenues to explore. He found the turmoil in Central and South America gave him the opportunity to sell guns to the revolutionaries at very high prices. By getting the new governments to issue privateering licenses to his ships, he could prey on commerce in the Caribbean. Often deWolf played one side against the other and many of his critics believe his vessels were actually engaged in piracy.
Despite the charges made against deWolf, the quick and enormous profits made by the him saw others clamoring for a chance to invest in his ventures. Because deWolf spent lavishly, he became heavily indebted to his backers and needed more funds. He capitalized on the greed of others and borrowed heavily from friends, neighbors and acquaintances. The feeling among many in Rhode Island was that deWolf could do no wrong when it came to making money. As a result, according to his biographer, George Howe, "Almost everyone in town (Bristol), even the Negro servants, had lent him money."
The General's fortunes seemed to be on the rise when his old nemesis, William Ellery, died at age 92 in 1820, and again when another enemy. Parson Bates, was not reappointed as Collector of Taxes in Bristol. James deWolf, George's uncle, and the U. S. Senator from Rhode Island at the time, was responsible for Bates' defeat. Senator deWolf convinced President James Monroe to appoint Luke Drury as tax collector. Drury was a relative and could be counted upon to ignore violations made by the deWolf family.
Once Ellery and Bates could no longer control the harbor, George deWolf became so bold that he brought one of his notorious privateers, the General Padilla into Narragansett Bay. Even the most ardent supporters of deWolf had to admit that, though the vessel sailed under the flag of Colombia, it was a pirate vessel and that George deWolf was somehow connected to it. In time. General George's schemes, plans,
financial juggling, and chicanery brought about the end of his career. In 1825, his sugar harvest on his plantation in Cuba failed and he could not meet his obligations. His monetary situation was so precarious that his entire financial structure collapsed as banks and creditors made their demands upon him. His business reverses were accompanied by a personal tragedy when his infant daughter, Julia, sickened and died. On December 6, 1825, Julia was buried and that night, George deWolf, his wife and six children, and all the valuable goods they could put into their wagons and coaches slipped out of Bristol. They arrived at Boston and, after declaring bankruptcy, boarded a small vessel. Mi lo, and escaped to Cuba. The entire townfolk of Bristol, including his relatives, were incensed. His uncle, John deWolf, commented that the general, "left a trail of excretion behind him." Many in Bristol were ruined. George Howe describes the anger when he notes, "The townspeople swarmed into the Mansion. They ripped the damask curtains from the walls and the chandeliers from the ceilings. ...All night, through the snow, tipcarts and lowgears trundled back and forth to the Mansion. By dawn it was an empty shell." George deWolf retired to his coffee estate in Cuba, Noah's Ark, where he could not be reached by any U. S. laws. For nearly two decades he and his family lived in a somewhat pleasant exile but, according to his biographer, he became lonesome for his homeland and returned incognito in 1844 and may actually have stayed in Bristol for awhile. On June 7, 1844, General George, the most flamboyant, most loved, and, eventually the most hated of the deWolfs, died in Dedham, Massachusetts with but few worldly goods. Years later, his descendants returned to Bristol and restored his Mansion, now called Linden Place, to its former glory.