NEWS: Heywood and Thornton Dispute Obama’s Slave-Ancestors Report

“As stated in the Times piece, genealogists from Ancestry.com said they have evidence that “strongly suggests” that through his white mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, President Obama had an enslaved ancestor in the 17th century named John Punch: “In 1640, Mr. Punch, then an indentured servant, escaped from Virginia and went to Maryland. He was captured there and, along with two white servants who had also escaped, was put on trial. His punishment — servitude for life — was harsher than what the white servants received, and it has led some historians to regard him as the first African to be legally sanctioned as a slave, years before Virginia adopted laws allowing slavery.

We should immediately note, though, that the word “slave” was rarely used in documents generated in Virginia in 1640 — at least, not in the legal sense of a condition of constant and inheritable servitude. Africans were, however, usually identified in documents as “negroes.” In fact, this was by far the most common term for people of African descent in Virginia records…..

…When John Punch was captured as a runaway with two white servants, the court extended his term of service to lifelong. In this case, the court made a definitive decision only about his length of service, but the other Africans may well have had to serve for life before him, lacking the contract needed to be guaranteed freedom. In their cases, the terms were irregular and determined by their masters….”

(Read the rest at The Root: Obama: Slave-Ancestors Report Misses the Mark)

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