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Biden’s ancestors were slave owners, genealogist finds

A genealogist who recently conducted a thorough review of President Joe Biden’s heritage has discovered that some of the politician’s ancestors owned African-Americans slaves.

Alexander Bannerman — who along with presidential lineage expert Gary Boyd Roberts co-authored an article on Biden’s ancestry for this year’s winter issue of American Ancestors — told Politico recently that two of Biden’s great-great-great-grandfathers were slave owners in Maryland in the 1800s.

According to the news outlet, the genealogist made the discovery while searching through census records and slave schedules from Maryland. Here’s more from the Politico report:

[Bannerman] pointed to Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jesse Robinett, who enslaved two people in Allegany County, Maryland, in the 1800 census. Another 3rd-great-grandfather, Thomas Randle, enslaved a 14-year-old male in the 1st District of Baltimore County, Maryland, in 1850, he said, citing census records and slave schedules, which were separate headcounts of slaves conducted alongside the census in 1850 and 1860.

In 1860, census records show that Randle and his family had moved to Baltimore County’s 13th District, Bannerman said, and an 1860 slave schedule for the 13th District again shows Randle enslaving a single man. (The spelling of Randle varies in some records, as is common for that period, and the spelling of Robinette, which is Biden’s middle name, has changed over time).

Bannerman noted that he did not include the ancestral findings in his article for the New England Historic Genealogical Society publication, arguing that it is extremely common for Americans with colonial-era roots to have ancestors who were slave owners.

He also made sure to add that Biden’s ties to slavery were relatively modest: “Not a lot of ancestors, and not a lot of slaves,” he said.

The news may be of particular interest as it relates to Biden since the Scranton, Pa., native has always touted his heritage as the centerpiece of his public persona.

Furthermore, the fact that Biden’s ties to slavery, however distant and modest, were not spoken of before now is somewhat surprising, especially in a day and age when other politicians’ ancestral slavery connections have come to the forefront, the Hill reported. Examples include Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and former Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas).

Politico noted that “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” and perhaps especially for “a white Democrat who must attract overwhelming support from Black voters to win a national election.”

Conveniently, news of Biden’s slave-owning ancestors has only come out after the 2020 election. Before then, any speculation was summarily shot down by the regular fact-checking websites, including Snopes, USA Today, and Politifact. Snopes encountered the specific allegations about Thomas Randle and the Robinettes in August 2020, but rated the claim “unproven.”

“In the end, Biden’s ancestry did not become part of the raging inferno of an election year fight over race and American history,” Politico reported.

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