President-elect Joe Biden uses every opportunity before an India related audience to tell them of his “great, great, great, great, great grandfather,” Captain George Biden, who was a captain in the East India Company, retired in India and had an Indian wife.
He first spoke of this ancestor when, as US vice-president, he addressed the Bombay Stock Exchange in July 2013. He told the audience that when he was first elected a senator in 1972, “I received a letter from a gentleman named Biden… from Mumbai asserting that we were related.”
The letter suggested “that our mutual, great, great, great, something or other, worked for the East India Trading Company back in the 1700s and came to Mumbai.”
Biden joked to the audience, “If that’s true, I might run here in India for office. I might be qualified.”
A few years later, in another speech, Biden expanded on this, saying the “Biden from Mumbai” claimed descent from a “British captain in the East India Tea Company. And he married, I believe, an Indian woman. And he settled in India”. He said a journalist had given him a list of five Bidens who lived in Mumbai. “I haven’t actually followed up and embarrassed the Bidens in Mumbai.”
The King’s College historian and ex-diplomat Tim Willasey-Wilsey, in an essay for Gateway House in August, wrote “there are no records” of a George Biden. But he did find records of two Biden brothers who captained ships for John Company. They started out as third and fourth mates on ships running from Britain to India. William Henry Biden went on to captain a few ships before dying of stroke in Rangoon in 1843.
His brother, Christopher Biden, captained his first ship in 1821 and made five return journeys between Britain and Calcutta. Each voyage was arduous but profitable and took a year to complete. In 1830, at the age of 41, he retired and settled near London and wrote a book about naval discipline.
(With inputs from Agencies)