From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Heth, Joice

(died: 1836) 

Joice Heth was supposedly a 161 year old African American woman, billed by P. T. Barnum as having been the nurse of George Washington when he was a baby. When her popularity started to fade, Barnum circulated the rumor that she was not human but rather an automaton made from various materials. After Heth's death in 1836, Barnum arranged a public autopsy - 50 cents admission - which proved that Heth was no more than 80 years old. Heth was actually a disabled slave who supposedly was brought to Paris, KY, by Mr. John S. Boling and later purchased by R. W. Linsday, who exhibited her around several states, including Kentucky, before selling her to Barnum. For more see The Showman and the slave, by B. Reiss.

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NKAA Source: The showman and the slave : race, death, and memory in Barnum’s America

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Heth, Joice,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 18, 2024,

Last modified: 2017-08-23 00:01:42