Two days ago I posted a lengthy excerpt of an 1893 address from the founder of the De Santo Claro Society, Thomas Sinclair, in which that Victorian explained that he advocated recognition of Henry II Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and Baron of Roslin as the true discoverer of America because of his intense dislike for Italians and his concern that America was losing its racial identity to a swarm of “Latin” peoples. Thomas Sinclair specifically claimed that Henry II had sexual relations with Native Americans/First Nations people, thus improving their genes and raising them up from savagery to barbarism.
In so doing, I very briefly noted that individuals like Steve St. Clair of the Sinclair/St. Clair DNA Project are investigating this claim even today, albeit with Henry I Sinclair, not Henry II: “We need to continue to identify living descendents of the Mi’kmaq tribe who we can test to prove/disprove a connection to Jarl Henry and his crew,” St. Clair wrote on his website. I interpreted this sentence as meaning that St. Clair was investigating whether Henry had sexual relationships with Native peoples. I’m not sure I see another way to interpret that. This sentence also stood behind my first mention of Steve St. Clair in my review of America Unearthed S01E13. Specifically, I said he was “attempting to prove that Henry Sinclair spread his DNA throughout North America in the Middle Ages, hybridizing the Native American population.” I later amended this after St. Clair objected.
Steve St. Clair has taken great offense to how I have characterized his research because he feels that “investigating” and “attempting to prove” are not comparable, and he also claims that he does not believe there is any evidence for the ideas he investigates. So I feel I owe it to him to place the information together to paint a more complete picture of his views.
In the episode of America Unearthed in which he appears, St. Clair is described as “skeptical” but having an “open mind” about the Henry Sinclair story. But the edited comments make him sound as though he has agreed with Wolter’s view: “It’s interesting that Prince Henry has just disappeared out of the records. There were no monuments to his death, so where was he?” he asks. St. Clair does not answer his own the question and instead states that he is “probably” a distant cousin of Prince Henry (on-screen he is labeled a “relative”), a claim that has generated a great deal of controversy from opponents who feel he is not actually related at all.
When Wolter lists his elaborate Templar-Sinclair-Bloodline theory, St. Clair replies, “I’m open-minded to the story. I’m here to find all the facts.” In the comments presented on the show—obviously edited—he does not present any contradictory narrative. He later expresses glee at the thought of the “treasure” buried at the New Ross “castle” site. At the end of the episode, he brings up the Da Vinci Code to explain why the treasure wasn’t there, and he never disagrees openly with Wolter in the comments presented on the show.
As we’ve seen with several of those appearing on the show, America Unearthed has taken great liberties with the material presented, and has edited comments sharply. When I initially discussed St. Clair, it was in the context of the comments as presented on America Unearthed, which show a man who came to agree with Wolter’s interpretation. I’m willing to believe that St. Clair was taken out of context and made to look more credulous than he is. It’s a problem with America Unearthed and a challenge in reviewing the character “Steve St. Clair” versus that actual person so caricatured.
But that’s where things got difficult for me.
St. Clair asked me to review the Sinclair/St. Clair DNA Project website in order to understand his actual position. The majority of the DNA Project’s work is involved in constructing a lineage for the St. Clair/Sinclair family back to the “Last Glacial Maximum” in an attempt to determine how closely related various modern people with Sinclair or St. Clair names are. However, St. Clair also identified a second area of study, the legends of the family:
I immediately find many of these stories doubtful but, approaching this scientifically, this new science of genetics for genealogy might help to shed some light on whether or not these stories have any basis in reality. […] My hypothesis is that, when enough myths persist, there may be a grain of truth in them. There may be some basis in reality to the legends of our association with the Templars, a Holy Bloodline, the Prince Henry St. Clair stories about early voyaging to the New World, and more.
From this, I concluded that St. Clair was studying whether there was a “basis in reality” to the various legends listed. This seemed to be confirmed by St. Clair’s further statements about the DNA Project’s desire to test Native Americans/First Nations peoples for Sinclair DNA:
Few people have been more loyal in their support of our project than Niven Sinclair of the UK. Niven is the one who has pressed, more than any other, for testing of Native North Americans, the Losna family and others who may help us better understand our complex ancient history. […] Since beginning this DNA study, I've had no choice but to focus on the study of Native populations, on finding better ways to analyze the Jarl Henry St. Clair story, on the mystery of the Newport Tower, on the crusades, on ancient navigation, on population statistics, on heraldry, and more. One result of this focus was the Atlantic Conference of August 2008, described as 'the definitive gathering of world experts on early trans-Atlantic voyaging.' Clearly this is an area that affects the history of our family, but I wanted to approach it from a more scientific perspective, examining the actual proofs and reasonable likelihoods that such voyaging was possible. This was not a 'Prince Henry' conference but, rather, a scientific gathering sponsored by a family that has a great interest in the subject as a whole.
This told me that St. Clair had an abiding interest in these alternative and diffusionist ideas. Taken together, St. Clair appeared to say that his study was designed to investigate the “basis in reality” for the story that Henry Sinclair and the Templars came to North America, built the Newport Tower, and had sex with Native Americans. He specifically, after all, hypothesized that there was “a grain of truth” wherever myths exist. St. Clair objected vociferously to any implication he was exploring a Templar connection, even though it appears on his website as an area of exploration.
Additionally, St. Clair worked with the Atlantic Conference, a gathering of diffusionists, where he specifically discussed “connections between Native traditions, traditional research and DNA research.” Among the speakers was Richard White, who believes in the Sinclair-America voyage, as well as Scott Wolter. The Conference specifically listed among its aims an investigation of whether “Prince Henry St. Clair may have crossed from Scotland in 1398.” Steve St. Clair uploaded Scott Wolter’s Kensington Rune Stone talk to YouTube in 2009 and stated that Wolter’s investigations “inevitably lead back to the only plausible story - The Knights Templar were in Minnesota in 1392 and carved the Kensington Runestone.”
While he may have been describing Wolter’s views, he uploaded this under his own name at the time that the 2009 documentary Holy Grail in America aired, with the note that Wolter’s talk “shows the details which the History Channel doesn’t have time to cover” and directs viewers to his Sinclair/St. Clair DNA Project. There is no indication that he disagrees with Wolter’s Templar conclusions; indeed, the plain meaning of the description is that it is “plausible.”
But according to St. Clair, this reading is wrong, and St. Clair has another set of writings that tell a very different story, but these largely appear outside the official website to which St. Clair directed me, appearing in blog posts and in YouTube comments.
In February, St. Clair wrote on his blog that he does not have any proof of Da Vinci Code-style conspiracies about the St. Clair family and the Templars:
The Sinclair / St. Clair family cannot yet be proven to have had anything whatsoever to do with the Knights Templar. I’ve spent months looking through any available trial records to get to the bottom of this. While I’m certainly not done, so far I don’t see our surname in any records. […] There’s actually no proof of a treasure, nor a fleet of Templar ships sneaking it out of Europe to Scotland. Zero actual proof. […] The story of Prince Henry Sinclair had become more an [sic] more popular in recent years. Unfortunately, despite some interesting circumstantial evidence, there is zero physical evidence.
He made similar remarks in earlier blog posts and in YouTube comments.
I trust you can see how this is quite confusing given what he wrote on his official DNA Project website and given the 2008 Atlantic Conference cited therein.
This second Steve St. Clair makes good sense. But I’m not sure how he squares with the one who is eager to test the Mi’kmaq for evidence of Sinclair love children. In his comments to me, St. Clair suggests that this is merely being open minded and investigating every angle. But I don’t understand why, of all possible hypotheses, only the ones about Henry Sinclair in America are emphasized on Steve St. Clair’s DNA Project website. If, as St. Clair said to me, extensive research has found no proof of Henry Sinclair’s voyage, why is he still looking for it? One can never prove a negative, but at some point the weight of evidence suggests further effort is futile. He’s welcome, of course, to do whatever he wants, but it should hardly be offensive to state that he is investigating what he explicitly says he is investigating.
And that brings me to my final point: Steve St. Clair wants us to engage in “dispassionate” research that looks at all possible explanations for the Sinclair history and heritage. Yet he became very upset when I pointed out that Thomas Sinclair, one of the key myth-makers in promoting Richard Henry Major’s Henry Sinclair myth, did so in a context driven by xenophobia and racism. Surely dispassionate research requires us to think about the context through which the Sinclair family legends emerged in the nineteenth century, all the more so if Steve St. Clair agrees that such stories have no foundation in evidence.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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