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I've seen lots of things about George Washington's teeth like this going around.

a screenshot of a claim George Washington's teeth came from his slaves

The real deal is George Washington had the teeth of his slaves in his mouth and not wood.. Wake Up my people they are still using us for body parts, Happy Presidents day.

President George Washington's teeth were not made of wood like you were taught in elementary. In fact they were savagely ripped from his Black slaves mouths and made into dentures.

Happy Presidents Day!

Emphases mine

And this,

a screenshot of a list of materials claim George Washington's teeth were made from, including human teeth

did you know?

George Washington's troublesome teeth were made of bone, hippopotamus ivory, human teeth, lead, brass screws, and gold metal wire- but not wood. This is the only remaining full set of the many dentures he wore throughout his life.

Emphasis mine

The official website of Mount Vernon mentions in reference to another less interesting claim about wood,

[...] composed of a variety of materials—including ivory, gold, and lead—wood was never used in Washington's dentures

But it never explicitly mentions the teeth of his slaves.

  • 8
    It was not all that uncommon for people to sell their own teeth. There is a notable scene in Les Miserables (the 2012 film version -- dunno about other versions) where Fantine sells a tooth. This scene would have been set about 1815. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 1 '18 at 0:48
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    @DanielRHicks: It's also in the novel: book 5, chapter 10 in my edition. Of course, it's a work of fiction, but at least a contemporary example. – Nate Eldredge Mar 1 '18 at 3:57
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    Your title claims "living slaves". The memes do not claim "living". teeth might have been taken from dead slaves too. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Mar 1 '18 at 13:30
  • Could you maybe give some sources for the things you've seen going around? At least an inverse google image search to spare us the work to judge the notability. – Trilarion Mar 1 '18 at 14:04
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    @eyeballfrog The relatives of the deceased might well care. (Of course, they might also object to taking the teeth at all.) – Martin Bonner supports Monica Mar 2 '18 at 11:11
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We do know that (at least one of) his dentures used human teeth, as you can see in this picture of the exhibit (taken from Snopes), which says:

Contrary to popular myth, Washington’s false teeth were not made of wood but of human and cow teeth as well as elephant ivory.

In addition, the official website of Mount Vernon notes that:

Washington bought human teeth from African-Americans

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. While this transaction might seem morbid to a modern audience, purchasing human teeth was a fairly common practice in the 18th century for affluent individuals.
The Trouble with Teeth

The website also notes that Washington saved a couple of his own teeth in the hopes that they could be used in his dentures.

So, there are a lot of unknowns. We don't know who these "Negroes" were who he bought teeth from; they could free or they could be slaves. According to this PBS article, Washington bought "foodstuffs" from both his own slaves and those of neighboring farms, so it's not a stretch to imagine him buying other things as well. We also don't know whose teeth were used in the dentures.

See also: this article, which gives references for where you can find the original sources, such as the ledger listing the purchase of teeth (see Credit entry #8).

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    Ironically the purchase suggests at least that the teeth would not have been from his slaves. – Dennis Jaheruddin Mar 1 '18 at 15:05
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    @Dennis It also doesn't suggest to me that they were taken from live slaves. – JMac Mar 1 '18 at 15:11
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    @DennisJaheruddin It's also not clear in what context the teeth were purchased. Even if they were bought from living slaves, that doesn't mean they were ripped out on the spot. They could easily have been lost through other means and just been saved to be sold (since that was apparently a common thing at the time). – thanby Mar 1 '18 at 15:22
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    In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, Fantine sells her teeth to doctors. Then she gets sick and dies. I guess it wasn't necessary that the Negroes were slaves. It was enough for them to be poor, and sell their own teeth or those of a dead family member. – Magicsowon Mar 1 '18 at 17:01
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    Doesn't the fact that he purchased them from the negroes rather than their masters prove they weren't slaves? – MrLore Mar 1 '18 at 17:18

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