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Joice Heth: George Washington’s Nurse?

Original image created by Mark Copeland for the National Fairground Archive. The above meme, or Weem as we call them at George Washington's Mount Vernon, was created with permission of the National Fairground Archive.

Original image created by Mark Copeland for the National Fairground Archive. The above meme, or “Weem” as we call them at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, was created with permission of the National Fairground Archive.

In August 1835, circus magnate P.T. Barnum paid promoter R.W. Lindsay $1,000 for the rights to the story of Joice Heth. Heth, an elderly African-American woman, with an interesting claim to a piece of George Washington history. According to the story, Heth had been the nurse to the infant George Washington.

The story, Lindsay explained to Barnum, was that Joice was a slave owned by Augustine Washington (George Washington’s father) who was sold in 1727, at the age of 54, to his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Atwood. Upon the birth of George Washington in 1732, Joice returned to the Washington family to serve as a nurse for the infant.

With this story at his disposal, P.T. Barnum paraded the blind and nearly paralyzed Joice Heth across New England from August 1835 to February 1836 advertising her as a 161 year old woman who was “the Greatest Natural and National Curiosity in the World.” Following her debut at Niblo’s Garden in New York City, huge crowds continued to touch the hands that held the baby George Washington. Adding to her story, Joice was known to recount stories of the First President as a young boy.

Advertisement for the Joice Heth exhibit. Courtesy Somers Historical Society, Somers, N.Y.

Advertisement for the Joice Heth exhibit. Courtesy Somers Historical Society, Somers, N.Y.

After 7 months on Barnum’s exhibition circuit, Joice Heth died in February 1836 after growing weak from the grueling schedule of being on display; however, this was not the end of Barnum’s exploitation of Joice Heth. A public autopsy was organized, with Dr. David Rogers, to determine Heth’s true age. Fifteen hundred viewers

You can read the rest of this article at:: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/GeorgeWashingtonWired/~3/sjkxuXGr-6A/

Short URL: http://thepresidency.us/?p=27431

RobertButler Posted by on Aug 8 2013. Filed under George Washington. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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