From first slave to first family

Maybe it’s a promo scheme, but, that wonderful service I’d probably be fascinated with if I knew who my biological parents were, has determined that President Barack Obama is descended from John Punch, one of the first documented slaves in America, through a surprising, but familiar, twist:

Link — President Obama is traditionally viewed as an African-American because of his father’s heritage in Kenya. However, while researching his Caucasian mother, Stanley Ann Dunham’s lineage, genealogists found her to have African heritage as well, which piqued the researchers’ interest and inspired further digging into Obama’s African-American roots. In tracing the family back from Obama’s mother, used DNA analysis to learn that her ancestors, known as white landowners in Colonial Virginia, actually descended from an African man. Existing records suggest that this man, John Punch, had children with a white woman who then passed her free status on to their offspring. Punch’s descendants went on to be free, successful land owners in a Virginia entrenched in slavery.


  1. says

    I suspect if more white families that have been in America for a century or more had their lineages looked at that closely, a sizable number of them (maybe even a majority) would be found to have recent African ancestry.

    Especially those claiming “Cherokee great-grandmothers” like the Melungeons.

  2. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Any family whose ancestry leads back to the colonies, especially those who can trace ancestry back to the 1600s, probably has some mix of African ancestry.

    An indentured servant in Colonial Virginia, Punch was punished for trying to escape his servitude in 1640 by being enslaved for life. This marked the first actual documented case of slavery for life in the colonies, occurring decades before initial slavery laws were enacted in Virginia.

    You can also trace the devolution of the treatment of the Africans by the change from treating them like the other indentured workers to longer indenture terms (to make up for the higher cost of the fare, the cost of having to teach them English and “civilize” them) to life-indenture but free children to outright slavery for them and all their posterity.

    Amazing bunch of justifications they came up with.

  3. loreo says

    Free status inherited from their mother – a colonial legal twist designed to keep white men from having to deal with their progeny via raped and coerced slave women.

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