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The real-life Pocahontas is actor Edward Norton's 12th great-grandmother, records confirm

A recent episode of "Finding Your Roots" also revealed that the actor's third great-grandfather was a slave owner.

The real-life Pocahontas is actor Edward Norton's 12th great-grandmother, records confirm
Image Source: (L) Getty Images/Hulton Archive ; (R) Getty Images/Matt Carr

Editor's note: This article was originally published on January 14, 2023. It has since been updated.

"Pocahontas," the famous Disney movie, is based on a real-life Native American woman. While we enjoyed watching the classic throughout our childhood and adult lives, Edward Norton, the "Fight Club" star, has discovered that he is actually a descendant of the famed 17th-century Native American. The idealized and mythologized daughter of a Powhatan chief, Pocahontas is reportedly Norton's 12th great-grandmother, according to CNN.



 

Genealogical records reviewed on a recent episode of "Finding Your Roots" on PBS confirmed that the Oscar-nominated actor is related to the woman who wed Virginia settler, John Rolfe. The long-standing family myth was verified to be true by historian and presenter Henry Louis Gates Jr. He told Norton: "You have a direct paper trail, no doubt about it, connection to your 12th great-grandmother and great-grandfather, John Rolfe and Pocahontas." 

Gates stated that the historic couple wed on April 5, 1614, at Jamestown, Virginia, when Shakespeare was still alive. Documents, he said, showed that Pocahontas passed away three years later in Gravesend, England, while Rolfe passed sometime in March 1622. Norton said after the discovery: "It just makes you realize what a small piece of the whole human story you are." 

Image Source: Getty Images/Ian Gavan ( Edward Norton attends 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' press conference during 64th Berlinale International Film Festival at Grand Hyatt Hotel on February 6, 2014 in Berlin, Germany)
Image Source: Getty Images/Ian Gavan ( Edward Norton attends 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' press conference during 64th Berlinale International Film Festival at Grand Hyatt Hotel on February 6, 2014, in Berlin, Germany)

However, "The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History," published in 2007, claims that before being abducted and marrying John Rolfe, Pocahontas was already married to a Native American warrior called Kocoum and had a child with him. The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian claims that the book has both written and oral historical evidence supporting the events, reported BBC

Early in the 17th century, Pocahontas welcomed English immigrants to what is now the United States. According to legend, she stopped Captain John Smith's execution by placing her head on his, thereby saving his life. The exciting relationship between Norton and Pocahontas was not the only shocking revelation regarding Norton's family disclosed during the show. Gates also revealed that the actor's forefathers owned slaves.

The program, which researches celebrities' ancestry, found that Norton's third great-grandfather, John Winstead, owned a family of slaves that included a 55-year-old male, a 37-year-old wife, and five small daughters who were 4, 6, 8, 9 and 10 years old. The 53-year-old Norton claimed he had looked into his ancestry before appearing on "Finding Your Roots" and that he didn't feel comfortable with that part of his family history.

The "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" actor was asked what it was like to view a census that revealed his ancestor was a slave owner. He replied: "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. When you read 'slave aged eight,' you simply want to die." The first episode of the ninth season of the show also featured an investigation into Julia Roberts' ancestry. 

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