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article imageGeorge Bush's ancestor Thomas Walker, was notorious slave trader

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jun 21, 2013 in World
A report by Slate's Simon Akam claims evidence that former President George W. Bush was a direct descendant of Thomas "Beau" Walker, one of the most notorious slave traders of the 18th Century.
According to Akam, writing in Slate, new historical research shows that the known great-great-great grandfather of the former US President George W. Bush, Thomas Walker, was the same person as the notorious late 18th century slave trader Thomas "Beau" Walker.
Ancestors of the Bush family are known to have been slave owners in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At least five members of the Walker family, George W. Bush's ancestors by his father's mother, were known to have been slave owners in Cecil County, Maryland.
However, this is the first time that evidence has been presented that an ancestor of the Bush family was directly involved in the brutal transatlantic slave trade.
Slate reports that the New England Historic Genealogical Society, which researches into the ancestries of American presidents, said the only other US president known to have had slave traders in is family line was Thomas Jefferson, whose father in-law John Wayles (1715-1773), was "a was a planter, slave trader and lawyer in the Virginia Colony."
At least 25 other US presidents are known to have been descendants of slave owners, while 12 owned slaves themselves, eight while in office.
History records that Thomas "Beau" Walker was the captain of a slave ship and was involved in at least 11 slave-trading voyages to the West African "slave coast" between 1784 and 1792. Walker, who died in 1797, was reportedly described as an "inhuman monster" by a British anti-slavery activist.
Akam writes: "This is the first time an ancestor of Bush has been directly linked to the brutal trans-Atlantic trade in which millions perished... Walker, George H.W. Bush’s great-great-great grandfather, was the captain of, master of, or investor in at least 11 slaving voyages to West Africa between 1784 and 1792."
"Beau" reportedly died in 1797 when the crew of his vessel mutinied, killed him and threw his body overboard.
According to Slate, research linking "Beau" with the Bush ancestor Thomas Walker, was conducted by Roger Hughes, a retired newspaper editor and genealogist, and Joseph Opala, a US historian who lives in Sierra Leone, and is involved in a project to preserve Bunce Island, a slave fort near Freetown where "Beau" had stopped in his voyages to purchase slaves.
Hughes was conducting research into Bush's ancestors when he stumbled on evidence that the British-born Thomas Walker who emigrated to the US in the late 1700s, was the same person as the notorious slave ship captain.
The most significant evidence Hughes stumbled upon were documents and letters showing remarkable similarities between the signatures and handwriting of both men. Opala advised Hughes to send samples of the handwriting and signatures to an expert Maija Jansson at Yale, who concluded that they were very likely produced by the same person.
The signature of the known Bush ancestor used in the research came from documents preserved at the Bristol Record Office recording his marriage to Catherine McLelland on February, 1785 in Bristol, UK, before he emigrated to the US.
The signatures of the slave dealer were from letters preserved at the British National Archives dated June 23 and July 2, 1787, written at Bunce Island and the Banana Islands, respectively, off the coast of Sierra Leone.
According to handwriting specialist Jansson in an email to Slate: "The angle and slope of the writing is the same on all of the signatures. The initial letter of the family name, 'W' is the same form in each, as is the initial 'T' of the Christian name. The decorative loop under the signature is a key and is virtually the same in the letters."
Other experts, Margaret White and Keith McClelland of the Legacies of British Slave Ownership Project at the University College London, came to the same conclusion.
McClelland said: "Having seen some of the documentation, there seems to me little doubt that the connection between Walker the slave trader and the current Bush family is undeniable."
In one of the slave trader's letters addressed to a fellow Bristol slave dealer James Rogers, he grumbles about the high cost of running his human merchandise business: "Times on the coast is by no means as favourable as I expected. Slaves is at the price of 150 [illegible] and the coast seemes [sic] to be lin’d with vessels of all kind... I have purchased seventeen fine negroes and am this day proceeding down the coast to try what I do can there."
In another letter, he grumbled: "Slaves is at a very greate [sic] price."
Hughes thinks the evidence appears conclusive: "If I had to testify to this, I’d say this is the same guy. If it’s not the same guy, I’m going to the gallows."
An account of the slave trader's death is recorded in the journal of Zachary Macaulay, a British anti-slavery activist who became governor of Sierra Leone. According to Macaulay’s journal entry dated Oct. 24, 1797:
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.
The Bush family has not commented on the findings, but George W. Bush once condemned the transatlantic slave trade as one of the "greatest crimes of history." He spoke of the men who were involved in the trade as"
Small men [who] took on the powers and airs of tyrants and masters... 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.
More about George w bush, Thomas "Beau" walker, Thomas walker, the transatlantic slave trade, Slate
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