HETH, the subject of this short memoir, was born on the
Island of Madagascar, on the Coast of Africa, in the year
One Thousand Six Hundred and Seventy-four. Of her parents
little or nothing is known, save what she herself relates of
them, in which her recollections are so indistinct, that but
very little can be satisfactorily learnt.
At the age of fifteen, she was cruelly torn from the bosom
of her parents and her native land by one of those inhuman
beings, who, in those days, to enrich themselves, made
merchandize of human flesh.
She was imported into America, and sold as a slave to Thomas
Buckner, an extensive planter of Virginia. She remained with
him several years, when she came into the Washington family,
who were then living on an extensive domain, called the
Chotank Plantations. About this time, or soon after, she was
married to a slave named Peter, belonging to Mrs. Atwood, a
relative of the family of Washington, and living the next
In this condition she lived until she became the mother of
fifteen children, being the property of Augustine
Washington, the father of George Washington, (or little
Georgy, as she now calls him,) and was the first person to
put clothes on the unconscious infant, who was destined in
after days to lead our heroic fathers on to glory, to
victory, and to freedom.
In the meant time she made a public profession of religion,
and about the year Seventeen Hundred and Twenty, was
baptized in the Potomac River, and became a member of the
By her trusty and faithful discharge of such duties as were
assigned to her, she gained the full confidence of all the
family, and was treated by them more as an hired servant
than a slave. To her was entrusted the whole care and
management of both the nursery and kitchen. At the age of
fifty-four years she was formally sold and transferred, by a
regular bill of sale, for the price of thirty-three pounds,
to Mrs. Atwood, who was the then owner of Peter, her
husband. This was not done so much on account of the value
of the services which she might render, as to accommodate
her in the enjoyment of the constant company of her
helpmate, (Peter,) who was also at this time something in
years, and a favorite domestic servant. By this arrangement,
they were permitted to be constantly together, both employed
in the lighter services in and about the house.
At the decease of Mrs. Atwood, she fell into the hands of
Mr. Boling, he being one of the heirs to the estate. Some
years after, Mr. Boling emigrated to Kentucky, and settled
in the town of Paris, Bourbon county. He took with him Joice
and her husband, who then, from the infirmities of old age,
were unable to do much labor; they, however, being old
domestic servants, were kindly provided for during the life
of Mr. Boling. Soon after his death, died Peter, her
husband, at a very advanced age, leaving Joice a single and
only witness of the events of the preceding century.
From that time she was followed by legal succession, the
branches of the family down to the present time.
Some of the time since, according to her own story, she has
been very much neglected, laying for years in an outer
building, upon the naked floor. In speaking of her past
condition, she expresses great thankfulness, that Providence
should so kindly provide the comforts of life, and make
infinitely better her condition as she approaches towards
the close of it.
She would not return to her former residence on any account,
and is highly pleased with the idea of her remaining as she
is, until death may finally close this mortal scene with
her. She has a nurse, whose sole and only business it is to
dress, feed, and take care of her, who is very kind and
attentive, and leaves nothing undone which could make her
more comfortable and happy. Her diet consists of a little
weak tea and corn bread, with rare cooked eggs, which is
served her three or four times a day. Coffee made very sweet
is her drink between meals, which is given her as often as
she asks for it. She seems extremely fond of animal food,
frequently asking for it; and when denied it, telling her
the doctors say it is not good for her, she will make as a
quick and spirited reply; "I guess I have lived long enough
to know what is good for me, as well as the doctors; if I
had minded them I should have been dead long ago."
She says that she has never in her life taken any medicine,
nor never will.
Her greatest temporal enjoyment seems to be contained in her
pipe and tobacco, the use of which for the last one hundred
and twenty years has been constant. Her general health has
been perfectly good, her pulse ranging from sixty-five to
seventy; full, strong, and perfectly regular. She is, in her
intellect, uncommonly bright; hears and understands
perfectly all conversation in her presence; is cheerful and
animated in her conversation, when not wearied by company.
She takes great interest in conversing with pious persons,
upon the subject of religion. She will repeat and sing
psalms for hours together, while alone, that were commonly
learnt and sung a century and a half ago; converses freely
about death, and is willing to meet it, often saying, "Oh!
that the Lord would in his mercy and goodness receive me
She has certificates in her possession from some of the
oldest and most respectable planters in the section of
country where she has lived for the last sixty or seventy
years, who without any hesitation give her a most excellent
character for truth, honesty, and exemplary piety.
The following are some of the certificates she has with her,
which she values very highly, and nothing gives her greater
trouble than to be informed they will be taken from her:
"This may certify, that I was born and have always lived in
Bourbon county, Kentucky; that I am now sixty-seven years of
age, and ever since my remembrance I have known Joice Heth,
the colored woman, now visiting Cincinnati, as being one
hundred and sixty-one years old. I have no doubt but this is
her correct age, for as early as I can remember, she was
totally blind from age, and so infirm as to be unable to do
any labor. She was always called in our neighborhood, Aunt
Joice Heth. She has ever been celebrated for her piety, and
I believe no reward or threat could be offered which would
induce her to tell a falsehood. She always since my
remembrance was fond of relating anecdotes concerning George
Washington, whose nurse she always claimed to be, and I
never doubted it myself, or heard it doubted by others."
Signed in the presence of, &c.
This shall certify that I, the subscriber, was born in
the town of Paris, in the state of Kentucky. My age is
seventy-one years on the 17th of February, 1835. I have ever
known Joice Heth, the old colored woman. When I first
remember Aunt Joice, as we called her, she was totally blind
and unable to work, which must have been fifty-five years
ago. It was always understood that Joice was the nurse of
George Washington, and slave of his father. She is very
religious and honest, and I believe the most implicit
confidence may be put in her word, for nothing in my opinion
would tempt her to utter a falsehood."
Within the last two or three years, she has travelled
through many the States, visited most of the principal
cities, and been seen by multitudes, with perfect wonder and
astonishment; no one doubting on seeing her, but that she is
what she herself claims to be, the nurse of Washington and
161 years of age.
The most learned and scientific men in this country have
visited her, and after conversing with and examining her,
all without exception, declare her to be the greatest
curiosity in the world.
In giving the foregoing brief sketch of the life and
character of Joice Heth, the writer of this has but one
single motive, and that is of charity towards the
descendants of this living monument of antiquity.
She has outlived all her descendants save five, and they are
her great grand-children, who are now held in bondage by a
respectable gentleman of Kentucky, who has generously
offered to set them free on being paid two-thirds they cost
him. This work, together with what may be collected from
exhibition, after deducting expenses, is expressly for that
purpose, and will be immediately done whenever there can be
realized the sum to do it. Two of them are said to be
uncommonly intelligent and active, quick to learn, and great
favorites of their master. In consequence of his partiality
towards them, they have been instructed to read, and have
acquired by their assiduous application upon the Sabbath, a
knowledge of the scriptures, of which they are very fond to
learn. It is designed that they shall be instructed in the
glorious truths of the gospel, so as to become fully
qualified to teach their poor unfortunate race the true way
to future happiness.
If such should be the case, the writer of this little work
would feel himself amply compensated for all his labor, by
the happy reflection of having been instrumental, through
the favor of the Lord, in opening a new channel through
which might flow freely and effectually to those unfortunate
beings, the glorious blessings derived from the knowledge of
Persons are now engaged in collecting facts relative to the
history of this old woman, which will be published as soon
as they can be authentically gathered.
The following are notices, which some of the public journals
have taken of her
From the New-York Sun
arrival at Niblo's Garden, of this renowned relic of the
olden time, has created quite a sensation among the lovers
of the curious and the marvellous; and a greater object
of marvel and curiosity has never presented itself for their
gratification. From the length of her limbs and the size
of the bones, it is probable that she was a large, stout
woman, in her day; but now, she comes up exactly to one's
idea of an animated mummy. Her weight is said to be less
than fifty pounds. Her feet have shrunk to mere skin and
bone, and her long attenuated fingers more resemble the
claws of a bird of prey than human appendages. The presumed
date of her birth is 1674--which would make her age, at the
present time, upward of 161!!--Notwithstanding her burden of
years and infirmities, she is lively, and seems to retain
all her senses wonderfully. Her hearing is almost as acute
as that of any person of middle age.
From the New-York Evening Star
The "old one"
has arrived, and crowds of ladies and gentlemen have visited
her at Niblo's. She is lively, and answers every question
cheerfully. From the bill of sale of the old lady from Gen.
Washington's father, we can have no doubt that she is
160 years of age. Her appearance is very much like an
Egyptian mummy just escaped from the Sarcophagus.
From the New-York Morning News.
living mummy, on whose head 161 winters have
sprinkled their snows, is now exhibiting at Niblo's Garden.
She was born in the year 1674, during the reign of Charles
the 2d of England, and Louis 14th of, France, and
independently of her great age, she is an object of
curiosity and interest to the American public, as having
been the nurse of the great Washington.
From the New-York Commercial Advertiser
Antediluvians.--We venture to state, that since the
flood, a like circumstance has not been witnessed equal to
one which is about to happen this week. Old Joice Heth, whom
we mentioned on Friday, holds a drawing-room at Niblo's this
day; which is to be continued till Saturday. Ancient or
modern times furnish no parallel to the great age of this
woman. Methuselah was 969 years old when he died, but
nothing is said of the age of his wife. Adam attained
nearly the age of his antiquated descendant. It is not
unlikely that the sex in the olden time were like their
daughters at the present day--unwilling to tell their age.
Joice Heth is an exception; she comes out boldly, and says
she is rising 160.
From the Providence Daily Journal
Joice Heth, the
nurse of Washington, will pass a few days in this city next
week. She has been several weeks in New-York, and been
visited by thousands of ladies and gentlemen. Joice Heth was
born in the island of Madagascar, on the east coast of
Africa, in the year 1674, and has consequently now arrived
at the astonishing age of one hundred and sixty-one
years. She weighs but forty-six pounds, and yet is very
cheerful and interesting, converses freely, sings numerous
hymns, relates many interesting anecdotes of the boy
Washington, the red coats, &c., and, when speaking of
her young master, George Washington, says, she raised
This work is the property of the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by
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Image 1- (title page) The Life of Joice Heth, the Nurse of
Gen. George Washington, (the Father of Our Country,) Now
Living at the Astonishing Age of 161 Years, and Weighs Only
Printed for the Publisher
Image 2- Advertisement for Joice Heth
Image 3- is of the
exhibition of Joice Heth comes from Barnum's 1855
autobiography The Life of P.T. Barnum Written by
Himself. In the book, it illustrates a passage
describing how a Boston woman closely examined Heth to
determine if she was a machine or a human. Heth, in the
background, looks far less grotesque than she did in the
poster which Barnum used to advertise her in 1835.
Barnum, The Life of P.T. Barnum Written by Himself,