‘Conundrum’? Media downplays genealogist claim Biden’s ancestors were slaveowners

A genealogist is claiming that after an exhaustive search into President Joe Biden’s family lineage he found records that the Scranton, Pa., native’s relatives on the side of his father were once slaveowners.

According to Politico, Alexander Bannerman, who co-authored an article with Gary Boyd Roberts, an expert in presidential lineage, for the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s American Ancestors Magazine Winter 2021 edition, said he discovered the information while examining census records and slave schedules in the state of Maryland.

Bannerman told the outlet that Jesse Robinett, Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather (the president’s middle name is Robinette) held two slaves in Allegany County, Md., according to the 1800 Census. In addition, Thomas Randle, another 3rd-great-grandfather of Biden’s owned a 14-year-old male slave in the 1st District of Baltimore County, Md., in 1850, “citing census records and slave schedules, which were separate headcounts of slaves conducted alongside the census in 1850 and 1860,” Politico Magazine noted.

Politico went on to report that the article written by Bannerman and Roberts, as well as the accompanying genealogical research, don’t make any mention of Biden family ancestral links to slavery because, as Bannerman said, it’s not uncommon for Americans whose relatives lived during the colonial era to have ancestors who owned slaves.

That said, the article does note a “distant tie to Varina Anne Banks Howell,” Politico reported, the wife of Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s sole president, through Biden’s ancestor Allen Robanet, “who probably came to Pennsylvania from England in the 1680s.”

Bannerman noted that the link to Howell is the “first presidential kinship tie” he has discovered during his research, the outlet added.

The genealogist went on to excuse the link, saying that Biden’s ties to the institution of slavery were not all that significant. “Not a lot of ancestors, and not a lot of slaves,” he told Politico dismissively.

Politico also appeared to downplay Biden’s ancestral ties to slavery.

“Tens of millions of Americans have ancestral ties to enslavers or the Confederacy, and few would argue those ties make them unfit for office. But the existence of any slave-owning ancestors can present a conundrum to a politician whose goal is generally to instill warm feelings about their personal biography,” the outlet reported.

Thus far, there have been no reported ties to slavery regarding any of former President Donald Trump’s relatives, though he was regularly accused of being racist and criticized for refuting Democrat claims of “systemic racism” during last year’s presidential campaign.

Trump noted during the 233rd anniversary of the signing of the Constitution that it “set in motion the unstoppable chain of events that abolished slavery, secured civil rights, defeated communism and fascism and built the most fair, equal and prosperous nation in human history.”

The Associated Press, however, pointed out that Trump “did not mention the 246 years of slavery in America, including the 89 years it was allowed to continue after the colonies declared independence from England. Nor did the president acknowledge the ongoing fight against racial injustice and police brutality, which has prompted months of protests this year.”

Jon Dougherty

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