I’d never heard of this man before, a slave who escaped to Iceland

And now, there is another remarkable chapter added to his amazing story.

He was born in the Caribbean in 1784, made his way to Iceland in 1802, and died in 1827. His name was Hans Jonatan. Hans was “the first man with African heritage to set foot in Iceland.”

Through “reverse genetic engineering” scientists have reconstructed part of his genome, using the DNA of his descendants. It’s a first, the first time it’s ever been done.

So with “enough genealogical and genotype data … reconstructing a historical genome sequence … is possible.”

Analyzing worldwide databases, researchers established that his mother, Emilia Regina, or her parents were “probably transported as slaves from the west coast of Africa to the Americas and the Caribbean between 1760 and 1790.”

There is a biography on Hans titled The Man Who Stole Himself.

“Having been born into slavery on a sugar plantation in St. Croix, one of Denmark’s Caribbean colonies, Hans was later taken to Denmark and enlisted to fight for the Danish navy.”

Ordered to return to the Danish West Indies, he instead escaped to Iceland.

“The fact that Hans’ DNA was so unusual in Iceland certainly helped the researchers, but it’s a fascinating demonstration of how genetic studies like this can retrace ancestries, even without direct access to the remains of the people involved.”

ajh

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