President Obama May Be Related to the First Black Slave in America
President Obama’s ancestry has become a consistent point of fascination in a nation where racial divides have come to define the social landscape of our society. The latest example of this fascination is a finding by Ancestry.com claiming that President Obama may be related to the first American slave.
The most interesting point of the discovery is that the slave is not related to Obama’s black father, but to his white mother instead.
“We have two of the most significant Africans in our country’s history being directly related to each other,” said Joseph Shumway, an Ancestry.com genealogist.
A group of genealogists put in 500 hours to secure the ancestry tree of President Obama. They were then able to connect the president to John Punch, an indentured servant who was sentenced to a life of slavery after trying to escape servitude in Virginia.
The challenge in the finding was going through all the records that had been destroyed over time. Descendants of slaves often have a difficult time finding their history due to a lack of available information. By piecing together the evidence, researchers were able to connect President Obama to the Punch family farm in Virginia.
They then found that the family (called Punch) was related to John Bunch, who was African American. At that time (the early 1600s), interracial marriage was not looked down upon in Virginia. It wasn’t until the 1660s that it became a problem and eventually outlawed. Punch fathered many children with a white woman, with these children being called the Bunches.
“[A]ll of the surviving evidence we studied very strongly points to conclusion John Bunch is the son of John Punch,” said Shumway.
“[A] lot of pieces of circumstantial evidence pointed at John Punch as the only logical candidate who could fit as this African American ancestor,” said Shumway.
The search for President Obama’s background is nothing new. Ancestry.com has been conducting the search since Obama ran for president back in 2008.
“We felt this was an incredibly significant discovery,” Shumway said.
There is no evidence that President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, knew that she had African ancestry. President Obama’s great-great-great-great grandmother, Anna Bunch, as born in Tennessee and her daughter moved to Kansas in 1834. That’s where Obama’s mother was born and where he was raised for a large part of his life.
This finding plays a part in the debate over whether President Obama is “black enough,” because some said that he was not a descendant of slaves. But there are others who say that in spite of this connection, his mother’s lack of knowledge that she was a descendant of slaves still likely led to Obama being raised with the perspective of a white American. The debate is far from over.
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