Ever since I began writing this Freedom’s Journal column at the Tribune back in 2015, I always wrote about upcoming events. For example, I’d write that an anniversary date is approaching and then I’d discuss it in detail. But I never wrote about something after it had already passed — well, not until now. And now I’m writing about President’s Day, which was a few days ago on February 19.
I’m actually writing about President George Washington — more specifically, his teeth. I mean my ancestors’ teeth.
And I’m writing about their teeth in The Tribune because racist white folks went crazy trying to defend Washington when I posted some of this historically truthful information on my Facebook page on February 19.
In fact, they unwittingly played a key role in making my post go viral. I love when I make racists angry. And now I’m gonna make ‘em even angrier because this newspaper reaches much more people than my Facebook page does. So here we go.
President’s (not Presidents’) Day is officially called George Washington’s Birthday according to federal legislation. It was created in 1885 to honor the man who enslaved 316 Black human beings at his Mt. Vernon, VA plantation and who transported nine of them beginning in 1790 to America’s first “White House,” which was located right here in Philly at Sixth and Market.
By the way, there is not and never has been a “Presidents’” Day to honor both Washington and Lincoln or Washington and any other president. In 2001, there was a congressional attempt in the form of House Resolution 420 to combine Washington’s February 22 birthday and Lincoln’s February 12 birthday. But it died after failing to get past a subcommittee vote.
Let’s get back to the enslaved Black folks. It wasn’t just their entire bodies that Washington robbed them of; he also robbed many of them of their teeth. Yes- their teeth! In 1784, Washington had the teeth of enslaved Black adults “transplanted into” his mouth. And five years later, a dentist in Philadelphia made Washington’s first set of total dentures (shown above) from teeth that were “yanked from the heads of his slaves.”
If you don’t believe me, read George Washington’s Teeth: An Unconventional Guide to the Eighteenth Century, which is a meticulously researched book written by Dr. Robert Darnton, an award-winning author and professor. And if you don’t believe him, read George Washington: An Imperfect God, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, which is a thoroughly documented book written by award-winning author and historian Henry Wiencek.
But if you still don’t believe it and still think Washington wouldn’t have done such a despicable thing and that such barbarism was beneath him, please continue reading.
From age 11, in 1743, until his death at 67 in 1799, Washington (and his wife Martha Washington) enslaved Africans and their descendants.
And he had a habit of being an unsanitary miser who, at Mt. Vernon, issued to his enslaved Blacks for use as their garments “dirty,” “fouled,” and “manure”-soaked wool from the stomach of sheep.
Similarly, many of those Black laborers had to resort to rummaging for “coarse burlap bags” to use as clothing because Washington refused to adequately clothe them. As Wiencek stated during a 2003 radio interview, Washington’s “slaves were miserably clothed … (In fact, they) were so badly clothed that they were stealing the wheat sacks made of the cheapest, roughest burlap to repair their own clothes … Otherwise, (they) would go around in rags.”
In providing so-called shelter, Washington’s treatment of his fellow men and women was just as bad. Consistent with Wiencek’s statement that Washington’s enslaved Black workforce was “miserably housed … (in) a very harsh place” is the observation of Julian Niemcewicz, a Polish poet who resided at Mt. Vernon for two weeks in 1798 and who described the living conditions of many of the enslaved population:
“We entered some negroes’ huts, for their habitations cannot be called houses. They are far more miserable than the poorest of the cottages of our peasants. The husband and his wife sleep on a miserable bed, the children on the floor. A very poor chimney, a little kitchen furniture amid this misery—a teakettle and cups. A boy about fifteen was lying on the floor with an attack of dreadful convulsions....”
If you want even more irrefutable evidence of Washington’s outrageously inhumane treatment of enslaved Black men, women, and children, Google my 2005 article published in the scholarly Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. It is entitled “The ‘Black Eye’ on George Washington’s ‘White House.’”
And please remember next year on President’s Day to display your proud American patriotism by showing your pearly whites and smiling. Or don’t.