Turns out Ben Affleck's newly controversial great-great-great-grandfather probably didn't own slaves after all—though other Affleck ancestors did, and the great-great-great-grandpa in question was the executor of slave-owning estates, meaning he was still involved in that world. The Daily Beast looked at Georgia tax and census records to come to this conclusion; Benjamin L. Cole, on Affleck's maternal side, was not, as those records first appeared to show, a wealthy plantation owner in Georgia with many slaves. But since the small-town sheriff did act as the executor to the aforementioned slave-holding estates, one expert notes, "[Cole] would have been a facilitator of slave ownership, and certainly someone who supported the system, though not himself the legal owner."
The Daily Beast explains that the 1850 federal census slave schedule is what PBS used to establish Cole himself owned slaves, but tax digests and another census show that he was actually just a trustee and didn't own any of the slaves. Specifically, relatives left slaves to him to hold in trust for younger relatives until they came of age; legally, he would not have been allowed to reap any financial benefits from the slaves, meaning he could not use them on his farm or rent them out to be used by others. "But you never know. He could have been managing the slaves, and saying, 'In your free time, go pick some cotton on my plantation as well,'" says another expert. And, the Beast notes, Cole's second wife—Affleck's great-great-great-grandmother—did once own a single female slave, so Affleck does still have ancestors who were slaveholders. Breitbart claims Affleck actually has 11 other ancestors who held slaves.