New Discovery: George W. Bush Is the Descendant of a Notorious Slave Trader

Then, again.
June 20 2013 5:44 AM

George W. Bush’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Was a Slave Trader

A surprising new discovery about the notorious Thomas “Beau” Walker.

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The historical evidence suggests that Thomas Walker died at sea in 1797 when his own crew mutinied and threw him overboard. Documents in the British House of Lords Sessional Papers indicate Thomas Walker is the same man as a “Beau Walker,” whose unpleasant end is in turn recorded in the journal of Zachary Macaulay, a British anti-slavery activist, sometime governor of Sierra Leone and father of the celebrated Whig historian Thomas Macaulay.

Macaulay’s journal entry for Oct. 24, 1797, is as follows:

“You have heard of the noted Beau Walker, an English slave trader of these parts. He arrived at the Isles Du Los [off present-day Guinea] lately in an American Brig being bound to Cape Mount [in present-day northwest Liberia] for slaves. He had scarce arrived at the last place, when exercising his usual barbarities on his officers & crew, they were provoked to conspire against him.  As he lay on one of the hencoops a seaman came up & struck him on the breast with a handspike, but the blow being ill directed, did not produce its intended effect and Walker springing up wd soon have sacrificed the mutineer to his fury, had not a boy at the helm, pulling a pistol from his breast, shot him dead on the spot. His body was immediately thrown overboard. Thus ended Walker’s career, an end worthy of such a life. The vessel left Cape Mount, and it is supposed has gone for the Brazils or South Seas. 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.”

Thomas Walker and Catherine McLelland had three children, Rosetta, Thomas, and George, born between 1785 and 1797. Their younger son, George’s, descendants include the Presidents Bush. After Thomas Walker’s death, Catherine moved with the three children from Burlington, N.J., to Philadelphia, where in May 1801 she remarried to a man called Robert Hodgson. While records are scarce, it seems that Thomas Walker’s slave trading did not bestow lasting prosperity on his family. George E. Walker lost property in Maryland’s Cecil County inherited by his wife, Harriet, and the subsequent rise of the Walker family began several decades later, after they moved to Illinois in 1838.

On his 2003 visit to Goree Island, a former slave fort off the coast of the Senegalese capital, Dakar, George W. Bush denounced the slave trade as one of "the greatest crimes of history.”

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"Small men took on the powers and airs of tyrants and masters," he said. "Some have said we should not judge their failures by the standards of a later time. Yet, in every time, there were men and women who clearly saw this sin and called it by name."

While Bush's distant ancestors may have been involved in exploiting African slaves, his own presidency won praise from many poverty campaigners for its work on the continent. Bush backed debt forgiveness for 21 African states, and his President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) pumped billions of dollars into antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS sufferers, saving millions of lives in Africa.

Simon Akam is a British writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement, the Economist, and the New Republic.

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