Virginia: Obama related to legendary Virginia slave, genealogist says

WASHINGTON – For genealogists, President Obama’s family tree is the gift that keeps on giving.

There was Dick CheneyWarren Buffett and Sarah Palin. On Monday, genealogists added another notable figure to Obama’s unlikely list of relatives: John Punch, a Virginia slave that some historians consider the first African enslaved in the colonies.

The connection to Punch, an indentured servant condemned to slavery in 1640, comes from Obama’s mother’s side of the family, said Joseph Shumway, a genealogist with, the website that has been researching the president’s family tree for years.

Obama’s mother, a white woman from Kansas, was known to have deep roots reaching to colonial Virginia, but her family’s African ancestry had not been previously unearthed. The discovery gives Obama – who identifies as African American based on his father’s Kenya heritage – a tie to the slave trade.

Two of the most historically significant African Americans in the history of our country are amazingly directly related,” Shumway said. “John Punch was more than likely the genesis of legalized slavery in America. But after centuries of suffering, the Civil War and decades of civil rights efforts, his 11th great-grandson became the leader of the free world and the ultimate realization of the American dream.”

Punch was an indentured servant in Virginia who escaped to Maryland with two white servants. When captured, the white servants were punished with imprisonment and lashing, but Punch was sentenced to slavery for life. The case has been cited by historians as evidence that racism was part of the slave trade in Virginia from its inception.

Punch is sometimes described as the “first African slave,” a label that touches on an ongoing debate among historians who study the origins of the slave trade in the colonies.

Punch lived before laws dictating slavery were codified in Virginia and during a period of sketchy historical documents, said S. Max Edelson, a professor of history at the University of Virginia.

Some historians say many Africans in the colonies at the time were considered indentured servants, while others argue that those Africans were likely presumed to be slaves. Without a clear legal record, “we can’t know for certain either way,” Edelson said.

Obama’s connection to Punch is similarly inconclusive, Shumway said. Researchers were able to useDNA evidence to track Obama’s lineage to a group of white landowners in Virginia. Historians know Punch fathered children with a white woman who passed on her free status. Those children grew up to become landowners in Virginia.

The findings were reviewed by Elizabeth Shown Mills, an expert in Southern culture and genealogy, who vouched for the research.

A careful consideration of the evidence convinces me that the Y-DNA evidence of African origin is indisputable, and the surviving paper trail points solely to John Punch as the logical candidate,” Mills said in a statement. “Genealogical research on individuals who lived hundreds of years ago can never definitively prove that one man fathered another, but this research meets the highest standards and can be offered with confidence.”

— By Kathleen Hennessey,0,3463156.story

Arkansas: Civil War Sesquicentennial events announced for August

LITTLE ROCK—Seminars in Fayetteville andLittle Rock, living history at Mammoth Spring, lectures and exhibits are amongthe events the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission has sanctionedfor August 2012, ACWSC Chairman Tom Dupree announced today. A complete listingof scheduled sesquicentennial activities, as well as additional information onthe activities listed below, can be found at

Among the Civil War sesquicentennialevents during August are:

* Arkansas History Seminar, an Arkansas History Commission event that includes a sessionon Civil War history, will be held at Powhatan Historic Courthouse State Parkon August 4; call (501) 682-6900 or email for more information.

* “The Stresses of  War in the Communities,” a lecture by James Johnston in partnership with theBuffalo National River, will be held at the Marion County Library in Yellville on August 7; call (870) 449-6015 or email for more information.

* “An Empire inExtent: The Civil War West of the Mississippi,” a symposium hosted by the ACWSC and the National Park Service, will be held at the University of Arkansas Global Campus in Fayetteville August 9-11; for more information, visit

* “The Life of aRefugee,” a living history program about civilians in Civil War Arkansas, will be held on August 11 at Mammoth Spring State Park; call (870) 625-7364 or for more information.

* Lead Hill Historical Marker Dedication will be held at the Lead Hill Rodeo Arena in Lead Hill on August 11; call (870) 365-9273 or email for more information.

* “Fought in Earnest: Civil War Arkansas,” the Arkansas History Commission’s traveling exhibit, will be at Lake Dardanelle State Park August 12-28; call (479)967-5516 or for additional information.

* “Civil War Arkansas 101,” a program with Mark Christ of the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, will be held on August 16 at the Bob Herzfeld Memorial Library in Benton; call (501) 778-4766 or for additional information.

* “Civil War Arkansas 1861-1865,” the ACWSC traveling exhibit, will be at the Arkansas State Library in Little Rock August 6-19; call (501) 682-2053 or email Carolyn@library.arkansas.govfor more information.

* “A Divided Arkansas,” a free seminar featuring Carl Moneyhon, William Shea and Daniel Sutherland, will be held on August 25 at the Old State House Museum in Little Rock; call (501) 324-9685 or email for more information.

* Civil War Roundtable of Arkansas will host a free lecture on the Sultana at Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock on August 28; email for more information.

* “Jacksonport inthe Civil War,” a Brown Bag Lunch Lecture by Mark Ballard of Jacksonport State Park, will be held on August 30 at the Old State House Museum in Little Rock;call (501) 324-9685 or email for more information.

* “Washington1861: A Community Decides” Exhibit will continue at Historic Washington State Park during July; call (870) 983-2684 or email for more information.

* “Invasion orLiberation? The Civil War in Arkansas,” an exhibit from the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, will be on display during August at the Arkansas Studies Institute in Little Rock; call (501) 320-5700 for more information.

* “The Civil War in Arkansas,” an exhibit at Little Rock’s Historic Arkansas Museum featuring artifacts from its collection, will be on display during August; call (501)324-9351 or email for more information.

* “Battle Colors of Arkansas,” highlighting the museum’s battle flag collection, will be on display at the Old State House Museum in Little Rock during August; call (501)324-9685 or email for more information.

For more information on these andother sesquicentennial events, visit

The Arkansas Civil War SesquicentennialCommission is housed within the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The AHPP is the Department of Arkansas Heritage agency responsible for identifying, evaluating, registering and preserving the state’s cultural resources. Other agencies are the Arkansas Arts Council, the Delta Cultural Center in Helena,the Old State House Museum, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and the Historic Arkansas Museum.

Georgia: Decatur to host Civil War Re-enactment

Information provided by the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau:

DECATUR, Ala. – The 14th Alabama Cavalry, the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, and Camp 580 Sons of Confederate Veterans will host the Battle for Decatur Civil War Reenactment September 1-2, 2012 at Point Mallard Park in Decatur, Ala. The annual event commemorates the four day battle which took place in October 1864, telling the story of Decatur’s small, but significant role in the War Between the States. More than 200 reenactors representing both northern and southern forces will transform the 500-acre municipal park into a weekend encampment complete with mock battles.

On Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 to 5 p.m., the Civil War camp featuring displays of authentic equipment, dress, and drills is open to the public with maneuvers and battles taking place at 2 p.m. The Union troops will win the day during one battle reenactment while the Confederates will capture the contested ground during the next day’s skirmish.

Other activities include a living history of daily camp life where spectators are encouraged to visit with soldiers, Civil War relic displays, drill and firing of mid-19th century muskets mounted cavalry patrols and Civil War related items for sale by sutlers. Everyone is invited to a ladies’ tea at 9:30 a.m. and to the Military Ball at 7 p.m. Both events are held on Saturday at The Chapel in Point Mallard Park.

The historical reenactment is held in honor of General Joe Wheeler and Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan, who both resided in North Alabama at some point during their military careers. The City of Decatur was an important transportation site for the Confederate States of America during the Civil War due to the Memphis and Charleston’s railroad bridge crossing the Tennessee River. During the 1864 battle at Decatur, Confederate General Hood attempted to break Union supply lines at the crucial railroad crossing at Decatur. He was not successful and had to cross the river at Florence. Decatur’s involvement in this campaign and the fierce four day battle caused General Hood to refer to the city as “a hard nut to crack.”

The two-day event is held at Point Mallard Park and admission is free. For more information on the Battle for Decatur reenactment, call the Decatur-Morgan County CVB at 800.524.6181 or 256.350.2028. You can also visit


Mississippi: Porter Fortune, Jr. History Symposium Announced for February 21-23, 2013

The 38th Annual Porter L. Fortune, Jr. History Symposium will address the theme “European Empires in the American South.” The Symposium, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and the University of MississippiDepartment of History, began as an annual conference on southern history in 1975.  In 1983, it was named for Porter L. Fortune, Jr., chancellor emeritus, to honor his contributions to the success of the symposium. Past events have examined topics such as the southern political tradition, childhood, religion, and the role of gender in shaping public power.

The Porter L. Fortune, Jr., History Symposium began as an annual conference on southern history in 1975.  In 1983, it was named for Porter L. Fortune, Jr., chancellor emeritus, to honor his contributions to the success of the symposium.  Past events have examined topics such as the southern political tradition, childhood, religion, and the role of gender in shaping public power.

The conference is held annually.  It is a three day event that is free of charge and open to the general public.

The 2013 Porter Fortune History Symposium will occur February 21-23, 2013.  The theme will be “European Empires in the American South.”

For more information on the 2013 Symposium, please contact Dr. Joseph P. Ward,


South Carolina: Library Locates Civil War Ledger

COLUMBIA — For decades, maybe for many decades, nobody examined a hard-bound copy of an 1898 compilation of Confederate Civil War soldier rolls at the Richland County Public Library.

Even library employees didn’t know it was there.

Debbie Bloom, who became manager of the library’s local history room three years ago, was stunned early this year when she came across the 18-by-30-inch index. It was stacked in a storage section where nonlocal documents were piled during the library’s 1993 move from its longtime home on Sumter Street to the current Assembly Street location.

“I noticed this big, huge book and thought, ‘What the heck is this? I think this might be important,’ ” Bloom recalled.

The discovery probably isn’t a historical breakthrough. Experts suspect most of the names in the book can be found in other public documents. But the authors of the 1898 ledger tried to dig up new information by interviewing survivors. The book might have new details on some soldiers, such as the battles in which they fought.

It will be interesting to compare the 1898 document with other records, according to Patrick McCawley of the archives center.

The public never will get the chance to physically leaf through the pages. The binding has deteriorated, and the paper is brittle. But anyone can check it out online, thanks to the digitization efforts at the University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library. You even can search for a particular name at


Tennessee: American Queen steamboat stopping in Chattanooga

By Mary Barnett (

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and in celebration of the new PBS American Experience production “Death and the Civil War,” premiering in September, Chattanooga will be honored with a visit from the American Queen steamboat Aug. 20.

The newly refurbished paddlewheel riverboat is traveling up the Tennessee River from the Mississippi on a 12-day Civil War excursion between two major battle sites: Vicksburg, Miss., and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Passengers making the nearly $3,000-per-person trip up-river will be joined by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Ric Burns and producer Mark Samels for an onboard premiere of “Death and the Civil War.”

Based on the book “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War” by historian Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University, the new documentary presentation examines how the unprecedented death toll of the Civil War changed national policies regarding soldiers, as “death entered the experience of the American people as it never had before.” An online photo gallery that accompanies the new program underscores how the abundance of wartime photography brought the experience of death along with the realities of war directly into American living rooms for the first time.

The excursion is one of several themed steamboat trips the craft has made on a regular basis since coming out of retirement last year.

Once in Chattanooga, locals will have the chance to tour the boat, meet Samels and watch a preview of the documentary, which airs locally on Sept. 18, at a special History on the River fundraiser lunch in the boat’s opulent grand saloon, hosted by local PBS affiliate WTCI-TV45.

According to WTCI’s public relations director, Jennifer Crutchfield, the saloon is modeled after Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Crutchfield said the excursion is one of several new partnerships the American Queen Steamboat Company is conducting this year with PBS, including an upcoming Washington Week-themed voyage in September with show moderator, managing editor and best-selling author Gwen Ifill and other political panelists.

According to the itinerary, passengers onboard the tour stopping in Chattanooga next month will have “the ultimate Civil War experience” with entertainment designed to educate travelers about this era in American history. Actors, impersonators, lecturers and balladeers will be traveling on the journey that will also include various field trips and re-enactments.

Built in 1995, the ship is described as the largest steamboat ever constructed. It is a six-deck metal recreation of a classic Mississippi steamboat. When not on water carrying a capacity of up to 436 passengers, the American Queen is docked in Memphis, Tenn.

She will only be in Chattanooga for one night before departing with a different set of passengers, making the same themed trip in reverse to Vicksburg.

Tickets are available now for the reception, seated lunch and tour on Aug. 20 but will be limited to 100 persons, officials said. Additional information can be found on WTCI-PBS’ website.

Confederate flag controversy brings protesters to Elizabethton


Elizabethton, TN –

A Confederate flag flying over a Carter County cemetery is the spark of new controversy tonight. We first told you about a Confederate flag flying over Green Hill Cemetery in Elizabethton when members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans erected the monument in honor of several confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery.

The Watauga Historical Association Vice President Dawn Peters told 11 Connects in October there shouldn’t be a huge Confederate flag flying overhead when there’s not even a large American flag at the cemetery.

Today, a group calling themselves “Tennessee Flaggers” from four different states gathered at the cemetery to protest those against the flying of the Confederate flag.

“I’m not ashamed of my family,” says Rick Morrell. “I’m proud of what they believed in.” Morrell and other Tennessee Flaggers marched across Green Hill Cemetery and gathered in protest of those opposed to flying the Confederate Flag there.

“Those soldiers over at Green Hill Cemetery deserve to have their flag flying over the graves of those humble men,” says  H.K. Edgerton. “Every time I pick this flag up and come to a gathering like this, I’m at a gathering of love the same kind of love that existed then.”