Update: Affleck has confirmed his ancestor’s name.
One likely suspect for the slaveholding ancestor Ben Affleck wants to disown is Benjamin L. Cole of Savannah, Georgia. In 1850, Benjamin L. Cole owned 25 slaves, according to the Chatham County, Georgia Schedule of Slaves enumerated in the 1850 United States Census.
Breitbart News has asked Mr. Affleck’s publicists at the Sunshine Sachs agency to confirm or deny this possibility, but has not received a response.
Breitbart News has also asked Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, the producer of the PBS Series “Finding Your Roots,” to confirm or deny that Benjamin L. Cole is Affleck’s slaveholding ancestor.
Professor Gates has not responded to our inquiry.
The New York Post broke the story last week that Affleck successfully pressured Gates to edit information about his slaveholding ancestor out of an upcoming episode of the program on his ancestry.
On Tuesday, PBS told Breitbart News in a statement it is conducting an “internal review” of the Affleck matter.
Breitbart News can not definitively confirm that Benjamin L. Cole is the only candidate to be Ben Affleck’s slaveholding ancestor, or that he is the ancestor Affleck requested be edited out of the “Finding Your Roots” program. It may be possible that Affleck has more than one slaveholding ancestor in his family tree.
A preliminary search of publicly available records indicates that Benjamin L. Cole may have been Affleck’s great-great-great grandfather.
Born in Georgia around 1816, Cole, who did not own slaves in 1840, according to the 1840 U.S. Census, owned 25 slaves ten years later, according to the 1850 U.S. Census Slave Schedules. That census record can be seen here:
By 1860, according to U.S. Census records, Cole was the Sheriff of Chatham County, in which Savannah is located. The Slave Schedules of the 1860 Census show that Cole held slightly more than two dozen slaves on behalf of a trust or estate.
Cole’s daughter, Maggie (or Margaret) married Flournoy Roberts in 1882 in Chatham County, Georgia.
Their son, Lawrence Lester Roberts, was born in Washington, D.C. around 1894.
His daughter, Elizabeth N. Roberts, Affleck’s maternal grandmother, was born in New York, New York in 1921.
Ms. Roberts graduated from the exclusive Williston Northampton private school in Easthampton, Massachusetts (near Amherst), in 1938. She went on to spend many years as the public information director for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Elizabeth N. Roberts and her first husband, William O’Brien Boldt had a daughter, Christopher Anne Boldt, who is Ben Affleck’s mother. Roberts later married Samuel Shaw, and was subsequently known professionally as Elizabeth Shaw.
Affleck released a statement on Facebook Tuesday in which he apologized for pressuring Gates to edit the information about his slaveholding ancestor out of the episode of “Finding Your Roots” that features his family tree. Affleck, however, did not provide any information about the identity of his slaveholding ancestor.
In his statement, Affleck said:
After an exhaustive search of my ancestry for “Finding Your Roots,” it was discovered that one of my distant relatives was an owner of slaves.
I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.
Skip decided what went into the show. I lobbied him the same way I lobby directors about what takes of mine I think they should use. This is the collaborative creative process. Skip agreed with me on the slave owner but made other choices I disagreed with. In the end, it’s his show and I knew that going in. I’m proud to be his friend and proud to have participated.
It’s important to remember that this isn’t a news program. Finding Your Roots is a show where you voluntarily provide a great deal of information about your family, making you quite vulnerable. The assumption is that they will never be dishonest but they will respect your willingness to participate and not look to include things you think would embarrass your family.
I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story. We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggests that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery. It is an examination well worth continuing. I am glad that my story, however indirectly, will contribute to that discussion. While I don’t like that the guy is an ancestor, I am happy that aspect of our country’s history is being talked about.
Breitbart News has asked Affleck, through his publicist, to give us his take on Benjamin L. Cole. Affleck has not yet responded.