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A Black Icelander?

Seems one escaped slave ..really escaped to a new world!

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The DNA of Iceland’s First Known Black Man, Recreated from His Living Descendants

Hans Jonatan, who escaped slavery in 1802, now has hundreds of relatives in the country.

Hans Jonatan was born into slavery on a Caribbean sugar plantation, and he died in a small Icelandic fishing village. In those intervening 43 years, he fought for the Danish Navy in the Napoleonic Wars, lost a landmark case for his freedom in The General’s Widow v. the Mulatto, then somehow escaped to become a peasant farmer on the Nordic island.

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A descendent of Hans Jonatan

No one knows how he got there. No one knows where in Iceland he is buried today. But the story of the first black man in Iceland, as far as it is known, has endured in local lore, passed down from his Icelandic wife and two children to hundreds of descendants since his death in 1827.

“The old East Fjords people would often say, ‘Oh, yes, you’re descended from the black man,’” one living descendant told Gísli Pálsson in his biography of Jonatan, The Man Who Stole Himself.

Today, Jonatan’s descendants mostly lack the dark skin and curly hair that so obviously marked him as the son of a black mother, an enslaved woman named Emilia Regina, and a white father, identity unknown. But bits of his DNA live on inside his great-great-great-great grandsons and granddaughters, and it is possible, scientists have now shown, to reconstruct parts of his genome from his living descendants. And with that, it is also possible to trace his mother’s ancestry in Africa.

It could only have happened in Iceland. The country’s small and genetically homogeneous population is largely descendants of settlers who arrived from Scandinavia and the British Isles a millennium ago. This, along with, detailed genealogy records tracking centuries of family relationships, have made Iceland a genetics laboratory. The biopharmaceutical company DeCODE Genetics, whose scientists helped carry out the study of Jonatan’s genome, has also analyzed DNA from more than half of Iceland’s adult population—including 182 of Jonatan’s living descendants.

Humans share some 99.5 percent of their DNA with each other, so it is in that other 0.5 percent where geneticists go looking for variations distinguishing one group from one another. In the relatively homogeneous Icelandic background, it was easy to find the African sequences. “If you’re sequencing an Icelander, you will find about one variant per million bases that is not found in any other Icelander. But you go and sequence into the African part [of the genome], you will find at least 100 variants,” says Kári Stefánsson, the CEO of DeCODE.

No single descendant carries all of Jonatan’s original genome. But each carry a small part of it. So the team stitched together sequences found in 182 different descendants to recreate 38 percent of the African half of his genome—presumably the half that came from his mother. The sequences most closely matched present-day populations in Benin, Nigeria, and Cameroon. There are few records about Jonatan’s mother, who was also born into slavery in the Caribbean, so this may be the only hint to her and her ancestors’ origins.

“It’s the writing of history with DNA, basically,” says Hannes Schroeder, an archaeologist at the University of Copenhagen who has used DNA to trace the origins of enslaved Africans. Schroeder was also a coordinator of EUROTAST, an interdisciplinary project studying the slave trade that helped fund the reconstruction of Hans Jonatan’s genome.

Jonatan’s life story was unique, and the methods used to study his DNA may prove unique, too. It would be difficult to reconstruct the genome of any single enslaved African in regions where many of them lived and their DNA mixed together in their descendants. “It’s definitely a special case because of Iceland,” says Schroeder. “The same project wouldn’t have been possible in, say, France.”

or similar reasons, it’s almost impossible to reconstruct the European half of Jonatan’s genome—the half that came from his unknown white father. Kirsten Pflomm, a descendent of Jonatan, says this is the question she hopes DNA can answer. You actually would not need to reconstruct a genome to prove Jonatan’s paternity; you would just need to obtain a DNA sample from potential fathers or their descendants for comparison. Pálsson’s biography suggests suggests Jonatan’s father could have been a secretary named Hans Gram—or Jonatan’s master, Ludvig Schimmelmann, or a certain Count Moltke.

Pflomm, who is American, lives in Copenhagen. When she moved to the city for a job, she was astonished to find that her apartment is across the street from Amaliegade 23, where Jonatan was living when he escaped to Iceland. Pflomm eventually hopes to make it to the small Icelandic fishing village where Jonatan lived out his days—by every account an upstanding citizen. “He seems like a guy I really wish I could have met,” she says.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2018 in Black History

 

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Georgetown University Atones for Slave Sale

In the early 1800’s Georgetown College which is a Jesuit School ran into financial difficulties. To make up for the financial shortfall, the College sold off all their slaves, who had built the college.

Some of the descendants of those slaves who were sold off by the church, have tracked their ancestry back to that sale.

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James Henry Hicks’ family, Rachael Hicks and her two sons Beverly Hicks (l) and Nance Hicks. Descendants of slaves sold by the University to slaveholders in Louisiana.

Georgetown University to give slave descendants priority in admission

Georgetown University will give preference in admissions to the descendants of slaves owned by the Maryland Jesuits as part of its effort to atone for profiting from the sale of enslaved people.

Georgetown president John DeGioia told news outlets that the university in Washington, D.C., will implement the admissions preferences.

He says Georgetown will need to identify and reach out to descendants of slaves and recruit them to the university.

On Thursday morning, a university committee released a report that also called on its leaders to offer a formal apology for the university’s participation in the slave trade.

The chair of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation, David Collins, S.J., says he hopes the university can take full responsibility for its slave benefactors. “As we join the Georgetown community we must understand that part of our history is this history of slaveholding and the slave trade,” he said. “And that opens our eyes to broader social issues that are still unhealed in our nation.

“History matters up to the present and into the future.”

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In 1789, when the original Georgetown College was founded, Jesuit-owned and -operated plantations in Maryland (which helped fund the new institution) were worked with slave labor. Profits from the plantations were foreseen as a means to fund the new school.

In 1838, two priests who served as president of the university orchestrated the sale of 272 people to pay off the school’s debts. The slaves were sent from Maryland to plantations in Louisiana. The school received $115,000 in the sale, the equivalent of about $3.3 million today.

In response to the committee’s recommendations, President DeGioia today announced several steps that would be taken, including:

  • Offering an apology for the university’s historical relationship with slavery;
  • Renaming university buildings in honor of Isaac (an enslaved person mentioned in the documents of the 1838 sale) and Anne Marie Becraft (a free woman of color who founded a school for black girls, and later joined the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore);
  • Establishing a public memorial to the enslaved;
  • Creating a research institute on the legacy of slavery; and
  • Engaging with descendants of enslaved people once owned by the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus, and offering them the same consideration given members of the Georgetown community in the admissions process.

Richard Cellini, an alumnus of Georgetown who has researched the slave sale, told “CBS This Morning” in July he estimates there are between 10,000 and 15,000 descendants of the 272 slaves sold living today.

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This picture from the Virginia side of the Potomac River shows Georgetown University atop the hill left-center in 1861

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2016 in Black History, BlackLivesMatter

 

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