My senior thesis topic is on the Rhode Island rum and slave trade of the 18th century. Rhode Island and specifically Newport was the slave trade capital of the world. American slave trading was dominated by Rhode Islanders who occupied an important aspect of the British mercantilist system. This was facilitated by the colony/state’s rum industry. Rum distillers in Rhode Island would make world-class rum; this would be brought to Africa and traded a good price for slaves; the Rhode Island traders would then bring the slaves to the West Indies where they would trade them for money and sugar cane; this was brought back to Rhode Island where the process would repeat itself.
The Brown family is most famously known as the benefactors of the Ivy League college Brown University. A Rhode Island dynasty, the Browns had been a prominent family in the colony since the mid-seventeenth century. As the region grew and developed so did the family, amassing great power and wealth. As one of the main industries of Rhode Island became slave trading, the Browns participated in it heavily. By the end of the Revolutionary War a rift emerged in the family, in which the two Brown brothers and owners of the family business fell on opposite sides of the spectrum; one fought to continue the slave trade, one campaigned for abolition.