05/19/2015 06:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ben Affleck's Ancestry Combines Abolitionists with Slave Owners


The revelation of Ben Affleck's request to Harvard Scholar Henry Louis Gates to remove mention of a slave owning relative who lived 150 years ago caused a media brouhaha, but the Oscar-winning actor failed to mention another illustrious relative who gave his life to the Abolitionist cause in the Civil War.

The information about his slave-owning ancestors came from Sony hackers who obtained confidential emails from the PBS producers of the show Finding Your Roots.

"The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth," Affleck wrote on his Facebook page. "I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story."

Col. Robert Gould Shaw, a distant cousin of Affleck, died storming Fort Wagner in South Carolina while leading the first black regiment raised in the North during the Civil War.

The battle for Fort Wagner was bloody. Col. Shaw, who was white, was killed along with nearly a third of the infantry's 1,000 black members. The regiment's fortitude in battle was a turning point in the war, encouraging greater black recruitment on the side of the North. This storied tale was portrayed in the revered 1989 movie Glory starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.


The Shaw Memorial, on the Boston Common, is one of the finest examples of 19th-century public art, according to The New York Times. It is noteworthy for its celebration of black achievement in an era when such recognition was rare.

Affleck's mother, Chris Affleck, a civil rights "Freedom Rider" in 1964, is the stepdaughter of Samuel Parkman Shaw, who was the first cousin of Col. Robert Gould Shaw.

On another side of the Affleck family is his great-great-great grandfather Benjamin L. Cole who inherited 24 slaves from his mother-in-law in 1858.

Twitter: @blakefleet