Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Very Interesting Piece About John Punch, America's First Documented African Slave

John Punch is one of those interesting footnotes to American history -- the first African who we know was made a slave for life.  (There is circumstantial evidence that the first slaves sold in Virginia in 1619 were treated as indentured servants, because we know that some of them, within a few years, were land owners and in some cases, slave owners.)

Ancestry.com is promoting their services by issuing this new report about Barack Obama's ancestry--and they tell us that he is a descendant of John Punch (or Bunch, as the name later became).  But this is not through his Kenyan father--but through his mother.  Remember that in the very earliest years, there were no laws against interracial marriage, and it happened enough for Virginia and Maryland to pass laws in the seventeenth century to prohibit it.

UPDATE: I had originally titled this, "America's First Documented Slave" but actually, first documented African slave.  Indian survivors of the Pequot War in 1637 Connecticut were enslaved.

UPDATE 2: The comments over at Legal Insurrection are beyond skeptical, and some of them are really quite amusing.  This one, which those familiar with the story of Superman, will recognize:

This doesn’t quite square with the old southside Chicago legend that states Ma and Pa Dunham were on their front porch in Kansas one night, when they saw what they thought was a meteor. Well, the thing whooshed over the house, knocked over the family-size statue of Lenin in the front yard and crashed into the herb garden.
 Far from being a meteor, it was the remains of a very sophisticated rocket, but not one you’d ever imagine coming from Earth. No, this one was covered in strange writing and inside, was a baby, wrapped in a copy of what appeared to be the Communist Manifesto.
November 1, 2012 NYT headline: Barack Obama Ancestry Traced Back To Jesus Christ AND Mohammed. 


  1. I rather liked:

    "Yeah – “they” can trace his ancestry back to the supposed “First Slave” without any discernible records.

    Kinda like his current biography."

    Perhaps there's a new category - undocumented ancestors.

    Perhaps he's descended from a long line of people without legit birth certificates.

  2. The fact is that decent birth certificate records are pretty unavailable before 1800 almost everywhere. A lot of Virginia's earliest official government records were used by descendants of the pioneer families to get their wood stoves going. The records that survived were because of one historian who ran around copying the more important ones at the close of the 19th century.

  3. it was a joke, Mr Cramer.

  4. And a good joke, too.
    I read once that if it hadn't been for the repeated bouts with the plague in the Middle Ages, we'd have very good birth records going back (in England) to before William The Conqueror. The reason there are few is because when a family died of the plague it was apparently common to burn the house down out of fear of infection/contamination.

    There is a widespread and strong attribution of divinity to the sitting President I have not seen before. As Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote in "Joseph and the Amazing Techicolor Dreamcoat", "any dream will do."