Edward Norton Discovers He’s Related To Pocahontas, Ancestors Owned Slaves

Edward Norton made a surprising discovery about his family history during a recent episode of the PBS show “Finding Your Roots.”

The “Fight Club” actor found out that Pocahontas, daughter of a 17th-century Native American chief, is his 12th great-grandmother. She’s well-known for likely saving Captain John Smith from being executed. This story was told by Disney in the 1995 animated film “Pocahontas.”

“You have a direct paper trail, no doubt about it, connection to your 12th great-grandmother and great-grandfather, John Rolfe and Pocahontas,” historian host Henry Louis Gates Jr. told Norton, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Gates, known for his participation in President Barack Obama’s “beer summit” in 2009, noted how Pocahontas died in 1617 in Jamestown, Virginia, around three years after marrying Rolfe.

“This is about as far back as you can go, unless you’re a Viking,” Norton said of the discovery. “Makes you realize what a small piece of the whole human story you are.”

But the actor wasn’t thrilled about some other details he learned. Norton did some of his own research before appearing on the show and discovered that his third-great-grandfather, John Winstead, owned a family of slaves, including a mother, father, and five daughters.

“When you read ‘slave aged eight,’ you just want to die,” the “Glass Onion” actor said of his findings. 

“The short answer is these things are uncomfortable. And you should be uncomfortable with them,” Norton continued. “It’s not a judgment on you in your own life but it’s a judgment on the history of this country and it needs to be acknowledged first and foremost and then it needs to be contended with.”

Besides those individuals, Norton also discovered on the show that he was related to a wealthy iron manufacturer-turned-Union soldier who wrote to Abraham Lincoln, and a late 19th-century pro-union labor activist involved in the Pullman Strike. 

The same season 9 premiere episode also traced Julia Roberts’ roots and found that her ancestors were slave owners, too. The actress said she wasn’t surprised at that.

“You have to figure if you’re from the South, you’re on one side of it or the other,” Roberts said of the revelation, saying she found it necessary to “understand” and “not shy away from” those facets of her history. 

The next episode of “Finding Your Roots” will feature Claire Danes and Jeff Daniels “exploring primal scenes from America’s past.” It premieres on January 10.

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