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Citation of Original:

Viau, G. French Dentistry in the United States: James Gardette, 1756-1831. Dental Cosmos 67 1925:389-391.

French Dentistry in the United States:
James Gardette, 1756-1831

By Dr. George Viau, Paris, France
Honorary Professor, L'Ecole Dentaire De Paris (Read Before the Congress of Bordeaux, 1923.)

There have always been legends cut out of the whole cloth or based upon distorted or exaggerated facts, which have been accepted a strue without anyone having taken the trouble to verify them or to investigate their origin. The history of dentistry has not escaped this general rule and we have a striking example which I purpose to make clear. It has always been stated, each writer referring to the other without seeking original sources of information, that French dentistry was introduced into the United States by two French sugeon-dentists, Gardette and Lemaire, both attached to the army which Lafayette led to the assistance of the American Colonies in their struggle for independence. This event, an important one in history of our profession and altogether to the credit of French dentistry, has occupied my mind for many years, and wishing to surround it with the necessary precise data and all, the guarantees of authenticity which modern methods of investigation offer, I desired to amplify the casual mention which has been made in books for a century and to throw light on this point, which has never awakened the curiosity of historians.

Therefore I undertook long and minute researches to secure the history of our two countrymen. It is the result of these researches which I intend to present in this paper.

With regard to Jacques Gradette,* we shall show that he really was a member of Lafayette's expeditionary force. Documents in my possession indicate that Gardette, an ardent patriot, enthusiastically espoused the liberal ideas which preceded the Revolution. The intention manifested by America to throw off the English yoke, an expedition to help which Lafayette was preparing in France on his own initiative, aroused in Gardette the decision to serve in a preactical way the liberal opinions of which he and his family were fervent disciples. Of the same age as Lafayette, he no doubt knew of the plans of that illustrious Frenchman. WE therefore find him enlisting fo rthe sole object, as he says, of fighting for the "Holy Cause"! He sailed with the fleet of Lafayette's army as naval surgeonin 1777 and arrived in Plymouth, Mass., in January 1778. Lafayette, given upon his arrival the rank of major-general by the Revolutionary Government, took command of a handful of men which received the high-sounding title of Army of the North, and it was in this little army that Gardette practised surgery and dentistry, having already studied the latter profession in Paris. We may pass over the events which occurred until July 1780, when Rochambeau arrived with 6000 men obtained by Lafayette after earnest solicitation at the court of Louis XVI. This army, under Lafayette, won the battle of Yorktown, which ended the War of Independence. We hear of Gardette again as passing the winter of 1781-82 in Providence, R. I., where 'the army was in winter quarters, and it was there that, besides his surgical service, he employed his dental knowledge in treating the officers


and men. At that time he made the acquaintance of a young American surgeon, Josiah Flagg, also serving in the army, whom he initiated into the principles of dentistry, in which Flagg took a lively interest. Josiah Flagg, as we know was the first dentist of American nationality and his illustrious name is inseparably connected with the development of dentistry, culminating in the foundation of the first dental college in Baltimore in 1839.

Let us interrupt for a brief moment the history of Gardette, whom we find finally settled in the practice of dentistry at Philadelphia in 1784, to relate in as nearly parallel manner as possible the history of Lemaire.


Did Gardette really have a comrade by the name of Lemaire in Lafayette's army? That is the crux of the question. In speaking of his comrade, Gardette always referred to him as "Le Mayeur." In his professional writings, as well as in his personal letters, of which we possess a large number, thanks to the courtesy of our distinguished friend and colleague Dr. Edward C. Kirk of Philadelphia, he always writes "my colleague Le Mayeur." How could this error fo personality have come about? In the simplest fashion: in English Lemaire and Le Mayeur are pronounced exactly alike which, besides, was not important, as these two ways of writing and pronouncing the name applied, as far as Americans were concerned, to the same person. Only Gardette, being French, could not make such a mistake. This open confusion did not occur until many years later, and probably at the time when Chapin A. Harris, outlining the history of the origin of the profession in the United States, as well as later authors, adopted the name "Lemaire," undoubtedly because Joseph Lemaire, the Paris dentist, had acquired in his day (about 1812) a wide and fashionable reputation. American writers therefore thought that this must be the same Lemaire and each in turn state that the author of Le Dentiste des Dames and other works was the comrade of Gardette who returned to France in 1787 and died in 1834 at Maisons-Alfort after a brilliant career in Paris. As for the companion of Gardette, Le Mayeur, he had occasionally practised dentistry in Lafayette's army, and later in Philadelphia specialized almost exclusively in a single operation, transplantation of teeth, which at that time fell as much within the province of the surgeon as that fo the dentist. After having performed thses operations on Long Island, he announced in the Pennsylvania Gazette, upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1784, that he had successfully transplanted 123 teeth in six months and that placed himself at the service of the public for all similar operations. At any rate, he offered, in the same journal to pay two guineas per tooth to any person who would sell him healthy teeth to use in this operation. In "Watson's Annals of Philadelphia" the chronicler states that transplantation was a novelty for Philadelphia and that "Dr. Le Mayeur" (here the name is correctly spelled) "had great success in Philadelphia and went off with a great deal of our patricians' money."

Gardette, despite his friendly relations with Le Mayeur, admitted after the latter's departure that having had opportunities to see the majority of the transplanted teeth, he had found that the apparent success of these operations had not been durable. Later Gardette, in a paper appearing in 1827 in the Philadelphia Medical Record, concluded that Le Mayeur had only negative results, condemned this operation and advised only "immediate reimplantation," which alone had given him definite results in special and selected cases. It is claimed in the United States that Le Mayeur (or Lemaire) had pupils. No proof, however, has been found, and Josiah Flagg, who is reputed to have studied with him, had been in contact with Gardette long before the arrival fo Le Mayeur with the army of Rochambeau. Le Mayeur disappeared in 1787, probably to resume his career as naval


surgeon, and let us note that neither in France nor in the United States has any trace ever been found of a dentist named Le Mayeur. We must therefore render Gardette his due, namely, his role as the sole introducer into the United States of Frenc dentistry, so advanced in France since the days of Fauchard at the beginning of the eighteenth century.

Gardette had studied with Le Roy de la Foudiguere and L. Laforgue, a justly famous practitioner and author of Traite pratique de l' art du dentiste, an excellent work in which he refers to Gardette in terms of praise. Thus James Gardette had all the qualities of a teacher; consequently he acquired a high reputation in the United States, where he practised for nearly fifty years. After his death his son, Emile B. Gardette, was still in practice in the United States (about 1850) and was, like his father, connected with all American professional activities.


There remains for us to prove that Joseph Lemaire, the Parisian dentist, never went to America, and no matter how firmly the legend is established we shall destroy it by the aid of formal evidence. In none of his writings does Joseph Lemaire allude to a journey to America nor to any relation with Lafayette, a fact which had impressed me for a long time; and yet in his works one feels constantly his desire for notoriety. Each volume contains a preface or a dedication addressed to prominent patients. He styles himself "Dentist to Their Majesties the King and Queen of Bavaria, to the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg, Consulting Dentist to the King, etc., etc." His first work Le Dentiste des Dames, dedicated to the beautiful sex, published in Paris in 1812, contains rhetorical flowers of which we place this nosegay before the reader: "Animated with the desire to serve the most interesting portion of the human race, the author does not address himself to sour and peevish prudes, those who affect indifference, but to amiable, sensible, witty and pretty women who, by the beauty of their teeth added to their other graces, wish us to find in their company all the charm we may rightly expect. May not this be most easily accomplished by confiding to a capable dentist the examination of a mouth whose form was the inspiration of painters in depicting the double curve of the bow borne by the divine son of Venus?"

This little volume contains numerous pearls of this kind.

*Born at Agen in 1756, but known in the United States by the Christian name of James, the English equivalent of Jacques.

Data Entry: DLF.

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