According to George Washington’s ledger, on May 8, 1784, he paid 6 pounds 2 shillings to “Negros for 9 Teeth on Acct of Dr Lemoin”.1

George Washington Ledger B, 1772-1793, May 8, 1784, Library of Congress.

George Washington Ledger B, 1772-1793, May 8, 1784, Library of Congress.

Whether the teeth provided by the Mount Vernon enslaved people were simply being sold to the dentist for any patient who needed them or intended for George Washington, is unknown. Although the fact that Washington paid for the teeth suggests that they were either for his own use or for someone in his family.

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While it may seem particularly gruesome, a perfectly acceptable means of making money was by selling teeth to dentists. Since at least the end of the Middle Ages, very poor people have sold their teeth for use in both dentures and in tooth transplant operations to benefit those wealthy enough to afford these procedures. Healthy incisors, preferably from young, healthy donors, were necessary for transplantation. Whereas, teeth used in dentures could be either incisors or molars and might even be taken from corpses.2

Citations

  1. George Washington Ledger B, 1772-1793, May 8, 1784, p 179, http://financial.gwpapers.org/?q=content/ledger-b-1772-1793-pg179. Based on Washington’s papers Lemay and Le Moyer/Le Mayeur/Lemaire are the same person. For more on French dentist, Jean Pierre Le Mayeur see https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-04-02-0002-0009-0015
  2. Bennion, Antique Dental Instruments, 82; Weinberger, Introduction to the History of Dentistry, 1:357 & 366; Woodforde, The Strange Story of False Teeth, 28, 61-63, 83.

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