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Census Records: Pete Buttigieg’s Ancestor Owned Slaves On Native American-Ceded Land


It’s often said among genealogists that the best way to get your family tree researched for free is to run for office. Even before former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg began to ascend the Democratic ranks after his victory in Iowa, various articles were published about his father’s Maltese origins and his mother’s longer-tenured American roots.

But none of them, until now, note that among Buttigieg’s mother’s ancestors we can find his great-great-great-great-grandfather, a Tennessee congressman and planter named William Marshall Inge. Inge was one of the pioneer settlers of Sumter County, Alabama, after land there was ceded to the United States by the Choctaw tribe in the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, the first of the treaties signed under President Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policy. Census records also show the Inge family as the owners of five or six slaves during their time in Alabama.

A 2019 blog post from Christopher C. Child of the New England Historic Genealogical Society explores part of this ancestry, naming William Henry Neal, Buttigieg’s great-great-grandfather, but explores that line no further. Not reported there—or anywhere else in press coverage of the candidate—is the connection with Inge, William Neal’s maternal grandfather. Inge is the first of several Democratic politicians found in this branch of Buttigieg’s family tree.

Inge was born in 1802 in North Carolina, the son of Richard Inge and Sarah Johnson. Richard was a Revolutionary War soldier and a tobacco planter in Virginia. He moved to North Carolina, where William was born, and later to Alabama, where he was among the first planters to settle the region. The movement between states was not uncommon in that era, where many early Americans looked for new opportunities on the western frontier.

William Inge moved from North Carolina to Tennessee, where he was admitted to the bar. He married Susan Marr of Fayetteville, Tennessee, just north of the Alabama border. Inge represented Tennessee’s 10th district in the House of Representatives for a single term during the 23rd Congress, from 1833 to 1835. (Tennessee no longer has a 10th district. The area it covered is now in the 4th and 7th districts.)

He sat as a Jacksonian Democrat at a time that party held a large majority in the House. Jackson was popular on the frontier; of the 13 representatives Tennessee sent to Congress that term, 12 were Democrats. The only exception was the 12th district’s representative, Davy Crockett.

After his term expired, Inge moved to Sumter County, Alabama, and resumed the practice of law. Sumter County was a part of the lands that had been recently ceded to the United States under the first of the Indian Removal Treaties during the Jackson administration—the events that led to the infamous Trail of Tears. Inge also served in the Alabama state House of Representatives in the early 1840s.

While there, he argued against the death penalty and in favor of allowing juries to impose life sentences, instead. According to historian Paul M. Pruitt’s book “Taming Alabama: Lawyers and Reformers, 1804-1929,” Inge had by this time left the Democratic Party and sat as a Whig. His nephew, Samuel Williams Inge, would also serve in the federal House as a Democrat from Alabama from 1847 to 1851.

William Inge died in 1846, and his widow and children relocated to Arkansas sometime in the late 1850s. His two sons and at least two sons-in-law fought in the Civil War, three for the Confederacy, one for the Union.

Inge’s daughter Susan married Caswell Neal, a lawyer, and their son, William Henry Neal, became a deputy U.S. marshal in Indian Territory—present-day Oklahoma. He worked there as an attorney in the “Little Dixie” region of the state and died in 1912. His brother, Tom Neal, served in the Oklahoma legislature as a Democrat for one term, in 1917.

Buttigieg’s ancestors moved on from there to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and later Indiana, where his mother and father lived in South Bend, both faculty members at Notre Dame.

“We are not aware of these connections but every American has a responsibility to confront and work to eradicate the effects of slavery and systemic racism,” responded Buttigieg spokesman Sean Savett. “Pete knows that the legacy of slavery is alive and well today, and he is determined to do everything he can as president to confront and dismantle it. He knows systemic racism affects all aspects of our lives. That’s why among other actions he has called for the passage of HR40 and laid out a comprehensive and intentional plan to tackle racist structures and systems across the country to create a truly equitable America.”

H.R. 40 would create a commission to discuss reparations, or financial payouts from current taxpayers to the descendants of those who were slaves in America 150 years ago.

While a few of his ancestors are more noteworthy than most people can claim, Buttigieg’s family’s journey through American history is fairly typical for someone with antebellum Southern ancestry. The conflicts of the past are often forgotten, but it does not take much digging to unearth not only our country’s history, but often our families’ histories, as well. While we all forge our own destiny in this world, the connection to the past is never too far away.