Is Joe Biden Descended From the First Irish-Catholic State Senator in Pennsylvania?

During a speech in Erie, Pennsylvania, on October 10, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden claimed to be descended from the first Irish Catholic to be elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate. Biden stated: “My great-grandfather was, they tell me, the first Irish Catholic state senator ever elected in the state of Pennsylvania, and he was a mining engineer.”

The great-grandfather Biden is referring to is Edward F. Blewett, who worked as a city engineer in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and an engineer in a number of other places, including Guadalajara City, Jalisco, Mexico. Blewett was elected to the State Senate in 1907 and served two consecutive two-year terms. He was not, however, the first Irish Catholic state senator in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania State Senate website, “contrary to campaign assertions that Senator Blewett was Pennsylvania’s first Irish Roman Catholic state Senator, that distinction actually belongs to the Hon. William McSherry (McSherrystown, Adams County), 1813-1817, whose son, James, also served in the Senate during the Civil War.” (Those names appear to be backward: It was, in fact, James McSherry who served 1813 to 1817 and fathered William McSherry, who then served during the Civil War.)

Biden is incorrect to claim that his great-grandfather was “the first Irish Catholic state senator ever elected in the state of Pennsylvania.” That distinction belongs to James McSherry, not Biden’s ancestor Edward Blewett.

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Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

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