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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher June 26, 2020

No evidence Joe Biden’s great-grandfather was Confederate soldier, enslaved people

If Your Time is short

We found no evidence to back either part of the claim.

Did the vice president who served with America’s first Black president descend from a Confederate soldier who enslaved people?

That’s the claim made by a viral image about Joe Biden, who served as vice president under Barack Obama (who himself has ancestors who enslaved people).

The black-and-white image is included with a blog post shared widely on Facebook. Showing a man in what appears to be a military uniform and holding a rifle, it claims: 

"Joe Biden’s great-grandfather Joseph J. Biden (1828-1880) was a slave-owner and fought for the Confederate States of America." 

The June 22 blog post itself says: "Hey!! Cancel Culture! Joe Biden's great-grandfather was a Confederate soldier and owned slaves." 

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

There was not a Joseph J. Biden among Joe Biden’s grandfathers, great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers.

And there isn’t evidence to back either part of the claim.

Biden and Obama

Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, was born into a working class family in Scranton, Pa., that later moved to Delaware, where he served as a U.S. senator. He served as vice president starting with Obama’s first term in 2008.

It was reported in 2007 that genealogists found that Obama, the American-born son of a white woman from Kansas and a Black man from Kenya, had a great-great-great-great grandfather and a great-great-great-great-great grandmother who each owned two slaves.

We traced Biden’s ancestry on his father’s side, starting with his own father. Here’s what we found.

Father: Joseph Robinette Biden Sr.

Joe Biden Sr. held a number of jobs, including in used car and real estate sales. He died in 2002.

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Grandfather: Joseph H. Biden

Joseph H. Biden, an oil salesman, lived in Baltimore. He was born in 1893 — 28 years after the Civil War ended — and died in 1941, according to Smolenyak.

Great-grandfather: George T. Biden

George T. Biden lived in Baltimore County, Md., and worked as a produce dealer, according to a document from the 1910 Census.

He was born around 1867, two years after the last of the enslaved people in the United States learned they were free, and died in 1933, according to genealogist Megan Smolenyak, who has written about the Biden family tree. 

Great-great-grandfather: Joseph H. Biden

This Joseph H. Biden is from the Civil War period.

A document from the 1870 Census shows that Joe Biden’s great-great-grandfather had the same name as Joe Biden’s grandfather. The document lists this Joseph H. Biden as a carpenter who lived in Baltimore County, Md. 

He was on a draft registration list for the Union Army, according to a document provided to PolitiFact by genealogist Megan Smolenyak, but she said it doesn’t appear he served and there is no evidence he enslaved people. He died in 1895, she said.

Other sources

A State of Maryland slavery database lists no Bidens. People who were enslaved in Maryland were declared free in 1864.

A National Park Service database of Civil War soldiers does not list Biden’s great-great-grandfather as having served for either side.

Kurt Luther, professor of computer science at Virginia Tech and leader of a team that runs the Civil War Photo Sleuth online tool, said the surname Biden does not appear in various Civil War soldier databases he examined. Smolenyak also said she found no Confederates in the Biden family.

Luther said the image we’re checking is of Richard Young Bennett, a Confederate soldier who served with Mississippi’s 2nd Infantry during the Civil War. 

The fact-checkers Snopes and Lead Stories also found no evidence to back either the Confederacy or the slavery part of the claim.

Our ruling

A blog post includes an image that says Biden’s great-grandfather, identified as Joseph J. Biden, was a Confederate soldier who enslaved people. 

Biden’s great-great-grandfather was Joseph H. Biden. We found no evidence to indicate he was in the Confederacy or enslaved people. 

We rate the post False.

Our Sources

Talking Nonsense with Micky, post (archived here), June 22, 2020

Interview, Joe Biden campaign spokesman Matt Hill, June 25, 2020

Snopes, "Did Joe Biden’s Great-Grandfather Own Slaves?," June 25, 2020

Promises to Keep — On Life and Politics, page 16, 2008

1870 U.S. Census, Baltimore County, carpenter Joseph H. Biden listing

1910 U.S. Census, Baltimore County, George T. Biden, produce dealer

Email, genealogist Megan Smolenyak, June 25, 2020

Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption, page 6, 2010

Lead Stories, "Fact Check: NO Evidence Joe Biden's Family Owned Slaves Or That His Great-Grandfather Fought For The Confederacy," June 23, 2020

PolitiFact, "Who is Joe Biden? A bio of the Democratic presidential candidate," June 11, 2019

National Park Service, Civil War soldiers database, accessed June 26, 2020

Email, David Young, executive director, Delaware Historical Society, June 25, 2020

Maryland State Archives slavery database, accessed June 26, 2020

Lackawanna County, Pa., Joseph Robinette Biden’s application for marriage license, listing Joseph Biden as his father, May 26, 1941

U.S. Department of Commerce, 1920 Census document listing Joseph H. Biden as the father of Joseph Robinette Biden

New York Times, "Father’s Tough Life an Inspiration for Biden," Oct. 23, 2008

No Ordinary Joe: The Life and Career of Joe Biden

Email, Kurt Luther, professor of computer science at Virginia Tech and leader of the Civil War Photo Sleuth online tool, June 25, 2020

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No evidence Joe Biden’s great-grandfather was Confederate soldier, enslaved people

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