Finding out his family history. Edward Norton appeared on the season 9 premiere of Finding Your Roots, where he learned that historical figure Pocahontas is actually his 12th great-grandmother.
“I understand that was family lore [you heard growing up],” TV host Henry Louis Gates Jr. told the Fight Club actor, 53, during the Tuesday, January 3, episode. “Well, it is absolutely true.”
According to Gates Jr.’s research, Norton’s family lineage can be traced back directly to John Rolfe, who was an English settler that married the Indigenous icon.
“John Rolfe and Pocahontas got married on April 5, 1614. Shakespeare dies in 1616, just to put this in perspective,” the Finding Your Roots host, 72, said in the episode. “Pocahontas died sometime in March 1617 in Grave’s End, England, and John Rolfe died around March 1622.”
Norton — whose ancestry also included a Civil War solider who once wrote a letter to President Abraham Lincoln and a former pro-union labor activist — was amazed by his connection to Pocahontas.
“This is about as far back as you can go unless you’re a Viking,” the Incredible Hulk star quipped in the episode. “Makes you realize what a small piece of the whole human story you are.”
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Pocahontas, who served as the inspiration for the 1995 eponymous animated movie, was notably the daughter of the former chief of the Tsenacommacah tribe. When British colonizers arrived in what would become Jamestown, Virginia, Pocahontas was quickly captured in 1613. During her time with the English settlers, she wed tobacco planter John Rolfe. The pair welcomed son Thomas in January 1615.
Gates Jr. further noted that Norton has a “direct paper trail” to Pocahontas and Rolfe after he had long heard family stories claiming such an ancestral connection.
The Glass Onion: A Knives’ Out Mystery actor also learned in Tuesday’s episode that his third great-grandfather, John Winstead, once owned slaves according to the 1850 census of North Carolina.
“The short answer is these things are uncomfortable, and you should be uncomfortable with them, everybody should be uncomfortable with it,” Norton revealed to Gates Jr. after looking over the documents. “It’s not a judgment on you and 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.”
He continued: “I gotta be honest, one of the things that amazes me is that they were making these kinds of records in that kind of a tumultuous time.”