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September 15, 2008

Vitiligo in Early American History: The Case of Henry Moss

Arch Dermatol. 2008;144(9):1242. doi:10.1001/archderm.144.9.1242

During the 18th and 19th centuries in the United States, cases of vitiligo began to attract a great deal of interest from both the lay public and the medical community, and they began to carry interesting cultural implications. Perhaps the most recognized and influential case of vitiligo from this period was that of Henry Moss.

Henry Moss, a man of African descent who was born in Virginia, first began to experience depigmentation of his skin at the age of 38 years, beginning on his hands and eventually extending to his arms, legs, and face. Four years later, in the summer of 1796, he exhibited his body for a fee in taverns in the Philadelphia area as well as before members of the American Philosophical Society. Moss quickly became a popular attraction, and, according to Charles Caldwell,1 a noted physician, his name was “almost as familiar to the readers of newspapers and other periodicals . . . as was that of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or Madison.”

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