While he was conducting research for his upcoming book, The Bidens: Inside the First Family’s Fifty-Year Rise to Power, Bannerman said he discovered that Biden’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jesse Robinett, owned two slaves in Maryland, according to the 1800 census.
Another Biden great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Randle, enslaved a 14-year-old, according to the census and other documents from the mid-1800s.
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.
As far as he was able to tell, the Biden family’s history with slavery was relatively small.
“Not a lot of ancestors, and not a lot of slaves,” he told Politico.
Bannerman also found a distant tie to Varina Anne Banks Howell, the wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, via Biden’s ancestor Allen Robanet.
It is quite possible Biden has known about his family’s checkered past for a long time. In 2004, he asked geologist James Petty to draw up a full genealogy, but the results were never published, Politico reported.
Biden is one of several high-ranking Democratic politicians whose families owned slaves. Former president Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, and failed presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke have all acknowledged that their ancestors participated in slavery.
Harris’s father, Donald Harris, revealed last year that his grandmother was the descendant of Hamilton Brown, the namesake of Brown’s Town in northern Jamaica. Archives of Jamaican records show Brown owned scores of slaves on the island.
Obama’s great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Mary Duvall owned two slaves, according to an 1850 census record. His great-great-great-great-grandfather, George Washington Overall, also owned two slaves in Kentucky, one of which was a 15-year-old girl.