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Heth, Joicelocked

(17??–19 February 1836)
  • Benjamin Reiss

Extract

Heth, Joice (17??–19 February 1836), performer, exhibited by P. T. Barnum as the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington., performer, exhibited by P. T. Barnum as the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington. Circumstances of Heth's birth are murky, as is virtually her entire life before her first encounter with Barnum in Philadelphia. By 1835 she was held as a slave by John S. Bowling of Paris, Kentucky, and exhibited in Louisville, Kentucky (at the Louisville Museum), and Cincinnati, Ohio, where the outlines of her stage act began to take shape. Telling stories about her swaddling of the young Washington, singing hymns that she supposedly taught him, answering questions from curious visitors, and submitting her remarkably frail and wizened body to public scrutiny, she became known at once as a person of historical significance and as a natural curiosity, or freak....

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