Albert Welles, a 19th-Century Genealogist, Argued George Washington Was a Descendent of Norse God Odin

The pseudo-scientist made his case in 400-page 1879 book.

September 10, 2017 5:00 am
19th-Century Genealogist Albert Welles Argued That George Washington Was Descended From a Norse God
Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, 1797 (Public Domain)

Great Odin’s raven!” George Washington, a descendant of a Norse god, you say?

One primitive genealogist, Albert Welles, tried to make that case in his spectacularly awkward-titled 1879 book, The Pedigree and History of the Washington Family Derived from Odin, the Founder of Scandinavia. B.C. 70, Involving a Period of Eighteen Centuries, and Including Fifty-Five Generations, Down to General George Washington, First President of the United States, as is noted by Yvonne Seale, a professor at SUNY Geneseo, in Public Domain Review. Welles’ book “shows just how useful nineteenth-century Americans found the Middle Ages to be when it came to shaping their understandings of their country’s origins.”

Why the god-like makeover for Washington, though? It was a way of showing Washington’s pure white line of family ancestry—or as historian Gregory D. Smithers notes, “good breeding,” which was associated at the time with “free white citizens.” This idea was later advanced—and ultimately, perverted—by the Nazis, who claimed eugenics as reasoning behind its mass-murder of Jews during the Holocaust. That, of course, is one of the tendrils of white supremacy.

Of course, Welles was far off and had many detractors in his day. On paper, he appears to be nothing short of a fraud, as Seale explains, fudging his own family history to connect it with medieval nobles—which would maybe help get the dogs off the scent of his true vocation: insurance sales.

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