Tag Archives: presidents

George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth, but probably had some of his slaves’ teeth.

Contrary to legend, none of George Washington’s dentures were made from wood. They were mostly made from ivory, but he had at least one set made with human teeth. It used to be that poor people and slaves would sell their teeth to be used as transplants. Some of Washington’s slaves sold their teeth, and it seems likely that they sold them for their master’s use. From Frontline:

The following year, in May of 1784, Washington paid several unnamed “Negroes,” presumably Mount Vernon slaves, 122 shillings for nine teeth, slightly less than one-third the going rate advertised in the papers, “on acct. of the French Dentis [sic] Doctr. Lemay [sic],” almost certainly Le Moyer. Over the next four years, the dentist was a frequent and apparently favorite guest on the plantation. Whether the Mount Vernon slaves sold their teeth to the dentist for any patient who needed them or specifically for George Washington is unknown, although Washington’s payment suggests that they were for his own use. Washington probably underwent the transplant procedure–“I confess I have been staggered in my belief in the efficacy of transplantion,” he told Richard Varick, his friend and wartime clerk, in 1784–and thus it may well be that some of the human teeth implanted to improve his appearance, or used to manufacture his dentures, came from his own slaves.

Sounds pretty gruesome to me. In the president’s defense, his poor teeth were a constant source of pain for him. He brushed daily but still lost all his teeth. From Barbara Glover:

Toothaches followed by extraction would be a yearly occurrence for Washington. There were frequent episodes of infected and abscessed teeth, inflamed gums, and finally ill-fitting dentures. One can imagine that his reputed “hair-trigger temper” might have been the result of a constant battle with pain. He was continually corresponding with noted dentists of the day asking for a file to repair a denture, a scraper to clean his teeth or pincers to fasten wires on his teeth. He inquired about a dentist of “whose skill much has been said.” He requested material to make a model of his teeth so a dentist could make new dentures.

Via Freedom Rider and Reddit.

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Garfield as Garfield

 Garfield as Garfield

An entire blog featuring President James A. Garfield as Garfield, via The Corner.

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The greatness of John Quincy Adams

Janet Potter is reading biographies of all the presidents in chronological order. She’s read through Buchanan, and so far, her favorite president is John Quincy Adams.

JQA’s 17 years as a post-presidential Congressman were legendary. He quite literally had nothing to lose. Most of his colleagues were a generation younger, and he was vastly more experienced. He became an outspoken abolitionist, an issue no one else, politically, could afford to touch. He presented petitions for the abolition of slavery in Washington D.C., and found sneaky ways to evade the Congressional gag rule (forbidding debate of slavery). He argued the case of the Amistad sailors before the Supreme Court, and he orchestrated the founding of the Smithsonian. He wouldn’t give up, and he wouldn’t be quiet. John Quincy Adams was an Aaron Sorkin character.

His unpopularity as a president felt too similar to his own self-doubt, and he set out, in the fifth act of his life, to refute it. Remarkably, it worked. He became known as “Old Man Eloquent,” the nation’s last surviving link to the revolutionary generation, and was far more respected and popular as a Congressman than he had ever been as a president.

His was one of the most eventful lives in early American history. He met Catherine the Great and Charles Dickens. He met George Washington when he was a teenager, and served in the House with Abraham Lincoln when he was in his 80s. To remember him as the one-term, sixth president of the United States is like remembering Michael Jordan as an outfielder for Birmingham.

Via The Daily Dish.

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