Researchers claim that a notoriously vicious slave-trader who brought captive slaves from West Africa to Colonial America is the same man whose descendants produced two U.S. presidents. George W. Bush and his father, George H.W., already knew that they were directly connected to Thomas Walker, a Baltimore-area merchant who was born in Great Britain in 1758. And historians were already aware of Thomas Walker, a slave merchant and captain who bought and sold African slaves in the late 1700s, before the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed. However, it was only recently that a retired genealogist and a historian in Sierra Leone finally figured out the two Thomas Walkers are actually the same person. According to Slate, analysis of old records and signatures seems to confirm it.
Walker's third son (born the year he died) was named George, and his grandson, born in 1875, was the first George Herbert Walker. His daughter, Dorothy, married Prescott Bush, and their son and grandson became the Presidents 41 and 43.
Obviously, this doesn't really say anything about the Bushes of today. (Other than that they are a really, really old American family, but we already knew that.) Members of the family had been previously known to own slaves, but so did 12 actual presidents, including many who were still in office. Walker and his immediately family died long before slavery was outlawed, and his profession wouldn't have terribly noteworthy or out of place at the time. It's mostly just an interesting historical footnote that highlights one of the many connecting threads that weave through our complicated national history.
If anything, the fact that Thomas Walker was part of their direct family line only makes the Bush story more remarkable, since they were lucky he even lived long enough to have three children. Indeed, it seems Walker was almost as cruel to his fellow sailors as he was to the slaves he bought and sold. A contemporary account of his death says, "There could not possibly have been a more inhuman monster than this Walker. Many a poor seaman has been brought by him to an untimely end." That's probably why his own crew members shot him and threw his body overboard in the middle of voyage in 1797.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.