Some ancestors of Joe Biden enslaved people, according to a new genealogy of the 46th US president.
According to Alexander Bannerman, co-author with Gary Boyd Roberts of an article in American Ancestors Magazine, Biden’s great-great-great grandfather on his father’s side, Jesse Robinett, was listed in the 1800 census as enslaving two people in Allegany county, Maryland.
Bannerman also told Politico records show that in 1850, another Biden great-great-great grandfather in Maryland, Thomas Randle, enslaved a 14-year-old male. Randle was still listed as enslaving one man in 1860, a year before the outbreak of the American civil war, which ended with slavery abolished.
Maryland, a border state between slave-owning south and abolitionist north, stayed loyal to the union. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery there around 1818, before escaping and becoming perhaps the greatest abolitionist of the 19th century.
Bannerman also noted that Biden is distantly related to Jefferson Davis, president of the confederate states which seceded to defend slavery and were totally defeated.
But he said Biden’s ties to slavery did not make him an exception among Americans. In fact, Bannerman said, Biden had “not a lot of ancestors [who had] not a lot of slaves”.
The White House did not comment.
In summer 2020, as a presidential election was fought amid anti-racism protests and the defacement or removal of statues to Confederate figures and slaveowners, a meme circulated which purported to show a Biden ancestor who fought for the Confederacy.
Fact-checking sites determined the claim to be false, though links between Biden and the slave-owning Robinette family were raised. Biden’s middle name is Robinette, the spelling having varied from the Robinett listed in 1800.
Politico also cited past cases of prominent politicians being found to be descended from slaveholders, among them the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, and another prominent Irish American Democrat, Beto O’Rourke of Texas.
In 2019, as the former congressman ran for the Democratic presidential nomination, the Guardian reported the existence of “abundant documentation … of his and his wife Amy’s ancestors’ slave-owning and their support for the Confederacy”.
O’Rourke said: “Amy and I sat down and talked through this. How Andrew [Jasper, his ancestor] was able, through his descendants, to pass on the benefits of owning other human beings. And ultimately I and my children are beneficiaries of that.”
In a blogpost, he added: “We all need to know our own story as it relates to the national story, much as I am learning mine.”