Edward Norton is direct descendant of Pocahontas, records confirm

TV show Finding Your Roots finds Oscar-nominated actor is 12th great-grandson of famed 17th-century Native American

Genealogical records reviewed on the show Finding Your Roots reveal that Pocahontas, the mythologized 17th-century Native American woman, is the 12th great-grandmother of actor Edward Norton.

The PBS history show confirmed Norton’s longstanding family lore on a recent episode, with host Henry Louis Gates Jr telling the American actor: “You have a direct paper trail, no doubt about it, connection to your 12th great-grandmother and great-grandfather, John Rolfe and Pocahontas.”

Pocahontas, the daughter of a Powhatan chief, welcomed British settlers to present-day Virginia in the early 17th century. According to legend, she saved the life of Captain John Smith, stopping his execution by placing her head on his. She married Englishman John Rolfe in 1614 and died three years later in Gravesend, England, according to records. They had a son, Thomas, in 1615.

Norton, the star of such films as Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery and Fight Club, said the revelation “just makes you realize what a small … piece of the whole human story you are”.

The statue of Pocahontas in the grounds of St George’s church, Gravesend.
The statue of Pocahontas in the grounds of St George’s church, Gravesend. Photograph: Fraser Gray/Rex/Shutterstock

The show, which helps celebrities trace their ancestral histories, also found that the Oscar-nominated actor’s third great-grandfather, John Winstead, enslaved a family including a 55-year-old man, a 37-year-old woman and five young girls, according to census records.

Asked how it felt to know he was descended from slave owners, Norton said: “The short answer is these things are uncomfortable. And you should be uncomfortable with them.

“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.”

Norton added that he personalized the details available in the census – “when you read ‘slave aged eight’, you just want to die”.

Gates also revealed that Norton shares a distant cousin with another A-lister: actress Julia Roberts. “You and Ed share a long, identical stretch of DNA on your ninth chromosomes,” Gates told Roberts, who also had her family tree analyzed on the show.

“This means that you inherited this shared DNA from a distant ancestor, somewhere in the thick of this family tree.”


Adrian Horton

The GuardianTramp

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