President Obama descended from first Virginia slave

Posted at 2:29 PM, Jul 30, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-30 14:31:06-04

(CBS) – President Obama’s diverse roots are widely known from Kenya to Kansas, but researchers have found a new link dating all the way back to the 1600’s right here in Virginia.

According to, the president’s white mother is a direct descendant of the first known slave through a family by the name of bunch.

“President Obama is the 11th grandson of John Punch, who was the first documented African to be enslaved for life in the American colonies,” Joseph Shumway, a genealogist with, said.

“We found that through DNA testing done by members of the bunch family that their direct ancestors are of Sub Saharan African origin eventually we were able to make a connection with the earliest bunch family members and a gentleman by the name of John Punch.”

In 1640, John Punch, an African, was a servant in Virginia who escaped, was caught and sentenced to remain in bondage to his master for life.

As for the difference in the names – Punch with a “P” versus Bunch with a “B” – researchers say that’s not unusual, that early record-keepers wrote names as they sounded.

Though records are incomplete, the genealogists say the slave John Punch is the only likely person to have been the father of John Bunch, sometime before 1637.

John Bunch’s mother was white, and so was his wife, which means that President Obama descends from the first known black and white couple who left traceable descendants.

“At the time in the early 1600 the racial attitudes in colonial Virginia were quite a bite different than they later came to be,” Shumway said. “Racial marriage wasn’t as looked down upon until about the 1660s and on upwards into the early 1700s did laws become in place to prevent that from happening.”

“The bunch family over the generations continued to intermarry with white people and just became white for all intents and purposes.”

John Bunch I, in’s Obama family tree, is the first in a seven-generation line of Bunchs, originally in Virginia, then moving to Tennessee, Arkansas, and finally to Kansas. That’s where President Obama’s great grandmother Leona Mccurry, his grandmother, Madelyn Payne and his mother Stanley Ann Dunham were born.