“What George Washington did was he had the teeth of his african slaves yanked out of their mouths and he made dentures out of those teeth” (Tariq Nasheed in Hidden Colors 3: The Rules of Racism).
Is this claim that Washington had teeth yanked out of the mouths of his slaves true? There is no direct evidence this was the case. It is at best a partial truth used to elicit an emotional response making it easier to believe the later claims in this clip.
The specific claim originates with controversial historian Henry Wiencek in his book “An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America“. In that book Wiencek claims Washington’s false teeth were “yanked from the heads of his slaves and fitted into dentures”. Wiencek also says “it has long been known to specialist that some of Washington’s false teeth came from the mouths of his slaves”. But Wiencek does not name any of these “specialist” nor does not give footnoted sources for this claim. And I have not been able to find any of these specialist making this claim. So while pro-black websites such as ReunionBlackFamily.com and BlackTimeTravel.com repeat this claim verbatim, it can not be said with any certainty that Washington had the teeth yanked out of his slaves mouths.
Wiencek’s book also says that “Washington paid his slaves for their teeth” and it also says “the custom of wealthy people buying teeth from the poor was common in Europe”. An article from PBS entitled “The private lives of George Washington slaves” confirms that selling teeth was common in those days and in history saying “Slaves of the eighteenth century sometimes turned to the perfectly acceptable means of making money by selling their teeth to dentists. Since at least the end of the Middle Ages, poor people had often sold their teeth for use in both dentures and in tooth-transplant operations for those wealthy enough to afford the procedures” so the claim from Wiencek that teeth selling and buying were common is true. That same article then goes on to say “Transplantable teeth were hard to come by, and in 1783 Le Moyer (Washington’s dentist) even went so far as to advertise in the New York papers for “persons disposed to sell their front teeth, or any of them,” netting the donor two guineas (forty-two shillings) per tooth, he offered anyone but slaves a similar amount for their front teeth.” So we know that Washington’s dentist bought teeth from white people. However, it is not clear whether LeMoyer bought teeth from slaves or not.
So did Washington pay his slaves for their teeth? We do not know this for sure. Washington or his dentist could have bought the teeth used for his dentures from anyone. What we do know is that MountVernon.org says “Deep within one of Washington’s account books is an entry which details Washington’s purchase of 9 teeth from “Negroes” for 122 shillings. It’s not clear if Washington intended to use these teeth as implants or within a new set of dentures or if he employed the teeth at all”. That article also says “Aware of his failing dental health, George Washington retained several of his pulled teeth within a locked desk drawer at Mount Vernon. In a Christmas Day 1782 letter, Washington wrote to Lund Washington , his distant cousin and the temporary manager of Mount Vernon, requesting that the teeth be wrapped up and sent to him in Newburgh, New York. Washington hoped that these original teeth could be used within new dentures that were being fitted for his use”. So we know that Washington bought 9 negro teeth and he also had several of his own teeth to be made into dentures. But we do not know if the negro teeth were from his slaves or not.
Although do know for sure that the full set of Washington’s dentures preserved at Mount Vernon are made of horse, cow and human teeth (see video above).
We do not know if Washington’s dentist used Washington’s teeth that he saved or if he used the 9 negro teeth that Washington bought. For all we know the dentist or Washington may have bought the teeth used for Washington’s dentures from poor whites who were looking to sell their teeth for money. The biggest thing we can know for sure about this claim is that you do not have to pull teeth from living people to get human teeth for dentures or implants. Even though we know Washington saved several of his own teeth and that he bought 9 negro teeth the most practical way to acquire human teeth is from dead people. It makes no sense that a self interested slave-holder would take teeth from the mouths of his own living slaves if he wanted them to remain healthy, strong and able to do hard labor.
So in the end Washington’s dentures could have been made from white people or any dead persons teeth. And the dentures could have been made with slaves teeth from slaves who were not Washington’s slaves. So it cannot be said for sure that Washington “had the teeth of his african slaves yanked out of their mouths and he made dentures out of those teeth” as Tariq Nasheed claims with certainty.
If you was a slave owner who needed dentures in those days would you buy the teeth from your slaves or have your slaves teeth forcefully removed thus making them less healthy, or would you acquire the teeth needed some other way.
FAIR USE NOTICE: This video may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of political issues. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this video is distributed without profit to those who are interested in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.