Barnum and his partner Levi Lyman drew the curious to see Joice Heth using posters and advertisements like this one, from the New York Sun. This advertisement provided the story that would entice readers to see the "real thing" by highlighting Heth's connection to the revered George Washington as well as the curiosity of her extreme age. This linking of Washington -- who by the early-nineteenth century had attained mythic status as the nation's founding father -- to slavery should be considered in the context of the growing public debate over slavery during the 1830s, although no surviving sources from the time reflect any explicit commentary linking Heth, Washington, and the nascent abolitionist movement.
GREAT ATTRACTION AT NIBLO'S -- UNPARALLELED LONGEVITY . . .
Joice Heth is unquestionably the most astonishing and interesting curiosity in the world! She was the slave of Augustine Washington (the father of Gen. Washington) and was the first person who put cloths [sic] on the unconscious infant who was destined to lead our heroic fathers on to glory, to victory, and to freedom. To use her own language when speaking of her young master, George Washington, "SHE RAISED HIM!"
Joice Heth was born on the island of Madagascar, on the coast of Africa, in the year of 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. She retains her faculties in an unparalleled degree, converses freely, sings numerous hymns, relates many interesting anecdotes of the boy Washington, the red coats, &c., and often laughs heartily at her own remarks, or those of the spectators. Her health is perfectly good, and her appearance very neat. . .
The appearance of this marvellous relic of antiquity strikes the beholder with amazement, and convinces him that his eyes are resting on the oldest specimen of mortality they ever before beheld . . .