This is the "Earliest known deaf people" page of the "FAQ: Deaf people in history" guide.
Alternate Page for Screenreader Users
Skip to Page Navigation
Skip to Page Content

FAQ: Deaf people in history   Tags: deaf, faq  

This guide covers Laurent Clerc's writings, Helen Keller's quotations, slavery, the Nobel Prize, the Gallaudet Family, the Holocaust, and the Civil War.
Last Updated: Sep 19, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Earliest known deaf people Print Page

Timeline of recorded deaf history

Deaf people have existed for as long as there have been human beings. Unfortunately, they have also been almost totally ignored in history until modern times.

This document lists the earliest known identifiable deaf individuals, from ancient times up to the cutoff year of 1700 AD.

For many of these, additional information can be found through the Gallaudet University Library Guide to Deaf Biographies database.

ca. 575-550 BC Deaf son (name unknown) of Croesus, king of Lydia; first recorded deaf person in history. Croesus' other son, Athys, was hearing and had his name preserved for posterity. Mentioned in Book I of Herodotus' History, and in the Cyropaedia by Xenophon. (Some other sources say Croesus had only one son, deaf, named Athys, but this seems to be incorrect.) In Lydian-Greek mythology, Croesus consulted an oracle about his deaf and mute son, and was told the son would first speak only on "an unhappy day". The legend goes on to say that when Croesus was later defeated in a battle, his life was saved when his deaf son suddenly spoke to request his father's life be spared, although Croesus lost his empire.
100 BC?-44 BC In Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar (1599), Antonius is talking to Caesar, and Caesar tells him, "Come on my right hand, for this [left] ear is deaf" (act I, scene 2). However, this seems to be "artistic license" by Shakespeare, as there is no ancient Roman account of Julius Caesar having a hearing impairment.
1st century AD Quintus Pedius, born-deaf grandson of a Roman consul by the same name. First deaf person in history known by name, he was a noted painter of his time. Mentioned in book 35, chapter 4 of Pliny the Elder's Natural History.
ca. 30 AD According to Mark 7:32-37 in the Christian Bible, Jesus cured an unnamed deaf man who also had a speech impediment.
76-138 AD According to contemporary court descriptions, Hadrian, emperor of Rome, was so "deaf" (i.e., hard of hearing) that he had to cup his hand behind his ear, even while riding into battle.
ca. 259 AD Deaf son, name not preserved, of Suinin, the tenth Emperor of Japan. The traditional date is about 29 BC, but historians regard 259 AD to be more nearly correct. Different stories have the son's deafness "cured" either by a shock or by a magic spell.
fl. 685 AD According to the Venerable Bede, St. John of Beverley taught the "Dumb Boy of Hexham" (in the Kingdom of Northumberland, part of modern-day England) to speak the letters of the alphabet and a few words. If true, then the boy was possibly the earliest deaf person to have been taught.
10th century AD John the Deaf (also known as Jean le Surdus and John the Physician of Chartres) was teacher of Droco and of Roscellinus during the "Age of Alcuin" in the "Carolignian Renaissance". Considered by scholars to be the founder of nominalism, a branch of philosophy. It is not certain that he actually was deaf: "Le Surdus" ("The Deaf") may have been a family name rather than an actual description.
fl. 1130 Andres the Deaf, son of Sigurd of Austrat, is mentioned in passing in the medieval Norse saga Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturlson, volume 8. Nothing else is known of him.
fl. 1171 The "Dumb Pilgrim of Canterbury", an unidentified deaf pilgrim visiting the shrine of St. Thomas á Becket at Canterbury, England, is said to have had his hearing and speech miraculously restored.
13th century Ali Shah Kar. Although "kar" means "deaf", it is not certain this man was actually deaf. "Kar" may just have been a surname, or he may just have been what we now call hard of hearing. He led a revolt against a sultan in what is now part of India, took possession of the city of Badrakut, and made it capital of his kingdom. The sultan's military commander counterattacked and captured Kar. The sultan pardoned Kar and exiled him to the city of Ghazna. Later, Kar broke his promise to stay away and returned home, whereupon the sultan had him arrested and executed. Mentioned in The Travels of Ibn Battuta, vol.3, p.727-728.
1253-1257 Princess Katherine Plantagent was born to King Henry III of England. She was frail and often sick; her deafness was discovered at about age 2 but may have been congenital. She died at Windsor Castle and is buried in an alcove in the ambulatory of Westminster Abbey, though her tomb is now missing its identifying inscription.
1255?-1306 John of Paris (also known as John the Deaf, John Quidort, Jean le Sourd, Johannes de Soardis, Surdus, and Monoculus). Born in Paris, he was a Dominican monk known for his work in philosophy, theology, and political theory. He earned his master's degree when over 50 years of age.
15th century? Filippo Viotti was a young Italian peasant who was visited by a miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary. This is commemorated in an altarpiece painting by Moretto da Brescia (also known as Alessandro Bonvicino), Apparition of the Virgin to the Deaf-Mute Filippo Viotti (painted 1533-1534), in the sanctuary of the church at Paitone, Italy.
fl. 1426 John Audelay, a British poet and priest. Nothing is known of his life beyond what appears in the manuscripts of his poems. He was blind, deaf and often ill. A published collection of his poems bears the date 1426, and at some time he was first priest to Lord Strange (1397-1449). His 55 poems all have religious themes. (The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English (2000), retrieved 24 March 2004 from
1426-1486 Princess Jean (also known as Joanna) was a daughter of King James I of Scotland and Queen Jane Beaufort. She was born deaf and reportedly used sign language, even in public. Betrothed at age 13 to her cousin, James Douglas, third Earl of Angus, in an arranged marriage, but he died before the wedding. Sent to France in 1445 for education at a nunnery. In 1457, wedded in another arranged marriage to James Douglas, 4th Lord Dalkeith and Earl of Morton, she becoming the Countess of Morton. Buried with her husband in the Morton Monument tomb at St. Nicolas Buccleauch Parish Church, Dalkeith, near Edinburgh. Jean's effigy on the Morton Monument is said to be the world's oldest image of a known deaf person. (Deaf Lives, p.153.)
1440?-1486 Cristoforo de Predis was a deaf early Renaissance illuminator and miniaturist in Milan, Italy. The surname sometimes appears as da Predis or di Predis. His better-known hearing half-brother, Ambrogio de Predis, also a painter, worked with Leonardo da Vinci and reportedly taught Leonardo some of his deaf brother's signs to help make Leonardo's paintings more expressive. Some sources erroneously label Cristoforo as Ambrogio's father, but they were in fact half-brothers. The Predis Codex is a bound collection of Cristoforo's miniature paintings of scenes from the Bible.
fl. 1453 Teresa de Cartagena, deaf nun, philosopher and writer, was probably born between 1415 and 1420 into a Jewish family of intellectuals and scholars. Her grandfather was the chief rabbi of Cartagena in the kingdom of Castile. She lost her hearing sometime in childhood, probably from illness; she remained sickly and fragile for the rest of her life. During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were either forcibly deported or forced to convert to Christianity. Most of her family, including herself, converted to Catholicism, and her grandfather actually became bishop of Cartagena and later of Burjos (Burgos). At some point Teresa received tutoring at the University of Salamanca for a few years. She was then placed in a convent and was a nun by 1453 (the only certain known date in her life). Among the first women to write and be published in Castilian Spanish, her main works are Grove of the Infirm and Wonders at the Works of God. (The Writings of Teresa de Cartagena, Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 1998).
fl. 1470? A deaf child (name not recorded) was taught to communicate orally and in writing by Roelof Huysman (better known as Rudolphus Agricola). He wrote a book about his deaf education effort, De inventione dialectia, published posthumously in 1538.
fl. 1473 Jean le Muet was a deaf Flemish painter of miniature portraits, at Malines in what is now Belgium. "Le Muet" means "the Mute."
16th century Jaime Lopez was a Spanish deaf painter, nicknamed "El Mudo". He is noted for his historical paintings, which include decorations in the Hermitage of Our Lady of Prado and a painting of St. John the Baptist in the Church of Toledo. (Looking Back, p.79.)
1522?-1560 Joachim du Bellay, a Frenchman deafened in early childhood, became a famous author and poet. He wrote love sonnets and The Defense and Illustration of the French Language (1549). He is credited with helping to establish the form of the modern French language, and is considered one of the great French poets of the Renaissance; he also became the best Latin-language poet in Europe. (Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences, p.98-101.)
1524-1585 Pierre de Ronsard was born hearing and initially served as a page to a French prince, but became hard of hearing at age 16 through illness. He changed careers to writing, and is most famous for his sonnets. He is considered one of the greatest of all French poets, and his name is recognized by nearly all French people. (Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences, p.304-306.)
1525?-1579 Juan Ximenes de Fernandez Navarrete, nicknamed "El Mudo". Born at Logrono, Spain; deafened at age 3 by illness; no formal education except in drawing and painting at a monastery. After extensive travels in Italy, he was appointed painter to King Philip II, March 6, 1568. Commissioned to paint 32 altars and the high altarpiece for the basilica of San Lorenzo in the Escorial near Madrid, he had completed only 8 when he died young and was buried in the church of San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo. (Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences, p.272-274.)
fl. 1534 Barend Dircksz. [Dirckszoon] was a Flemish or Dutch painter, nicknamed "Doove" (Deaf) Barend.
fl. 1535-1664 In addition to Luis de Velasco (below), the Velasco family of Spain had other deaf members, about whom little is known: Francisco (fl. 1540?), who died while still a child; Pedro (1540?-1572); Geronimo (1588-?); Anna (1589-?), Catalina (16th century) and Bernardina (16th century). Francisco and Pedro were students of Pedro Ponce de Leon, who also supposedly also taught Anna and Catalina to the point where both could and did become nuns.
fl. 1550 Joachim Pascha, the Provost of Brandenburg, Germany, had a deaf daughter (name not recorded). She became deaf from illness during her first year of life. The grieving father had a priest (name also not recorded) attempt to teach her to speak. When this failed, the priest succeeded in teaching some written communication through the use of pictures. (The Conquest of Deafness, p.42.)
fl. 1550-1571 Pedro de Tobar was younger brother of Francisco de Tobar (below). After his education by Pedro Ponce de Leon, he appears to have been ordained into the Catholic Church. (Notable Deaf Persons, p.102-103.)
fl. 1550-1578 Francisco de Tobar was the eldest son born to Juan de Velasco, Marquis of Berlanga, in the house of Tobar in Spain. His brother Pedro (above) was also deaf, and some sources claim a third deaf brother, Enrique, and either one or two deaf sisters. Francisco and Pedro were among the earliest known deaf persons to be educated, when Pedro Ponce de Leon taught them. The purpose of this education was to allow Francisco to inherit his father's titles, otherwise barred to deaf people at the time. (Notable Deaf Persons, p.102-103.)
1570-? Edward Bone, deaf from infancy; became a servant to a hearing man and apparently communicated with his master in a kind of signed English. Despite his lack of speech, he could make himself generally understood by other hearing people also. He would sign vigorously whenever he encountered John Kempe (below), another deaf man who lived nearby.
fl. 1575 Gaspar de Gurrea was the deaf son of the highest judge of Aragon, Spain, and a pupil of Pedro Ponce de Leon.
fl. 1576 Thomas Filsby, a "deaf and dumb" man, is recorded in the parish book of St. Martin's Church, Leicester, England, as marrying Ursula Russel (hearing) by using sign language. (American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, v.10 no.4, October 1858, p.250).
1578?-? John Kempe was a deaf friend of Edward Bone (above). Their vigorous conversations in sign language may be the earliest record of what is now British Sign Language, BSL. Bone and Kemp are recorded in A Survey of Cornwall by Richard Carew (1555-1620).
1585-1634 Hendrick Barentzoon Avercamp was born deaf in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He became a painter noted for his oil landscapes. Also known as Hendrik van Campen (or van Kampen). Nicknamed "de Stom", "de Stomme" [mute] or "de Stomme van Kampen". Works include Winterlandschaft mit Eisbelustigung; other works hang in the Dresden Gallery and in galleries in Berlin, Rotterdam, and Antwerp as well as in private collections.
1524-1602 Antonio de Covarrubias y Leiva was a friend of the famous Greek-Spanish painter El Greco. Corvarrubias studied law at the University of Salamanca and became a noted jurist, antiquarian, philosopher, poet, humanist and Hellenist. He was ordained in 1581 and made a canon of Toledo Cathedral. He became very deaf in late life. El Greco painted him; this portrait is now in the Louvre.
fl. 1598 Hercule Sarti, from Ferrare, Italy, was born deaf and was raised knowing sign language. He became a painter and was nicknamed "Muet de Ficarolo". (Looking Back, p.78.)
17th century Christian Wolfgang Heimbach was court painter to King Frederick III of Denmark. His works are found in galleries in Bremen, Hanover, London, and the Brunswick and Cassel Galleries of Sweden's Queen Christina.
17th century Thomas Knotcliff reportedly was an "educated deaf-mute" in England, before the first British school for the deaf was established. He was a member of the peerage, entitled to be called "Sir Thomas Knotcliff". (American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, v.1 n.3, April 1848, p.184.)
17th century Daniel Defoe, in his book The Life and Adventures of Duncan Campbell, describes the unidentified daughter of a man named Loggin as "a miracle of wit and good nature," able to speak distinctly and to lipread easily, with a highly cultivated mind. This was in the days before the first British school for the deaf was established, and there is no indication of how she was educated. (American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, v.1 n.3, April 1848, p.184.)
17th century Richard Lyns was another "educated deaf-mute" before the founding of the first British school for the deaf. Resident of Oxford.
1606-1664 John Dyott, known locally as "Dumb Dyott" or "Dummy Dyott", was born deaf and lived in Lichfield, England. As a volunteer militia member during the English Civil War, on March 2, 1643 he made a sniper shot that killed Lord Brooke, a leader of the Puritans, during the Siege of Lichfield, and was hailed as a hero by the opposing Cavaliers. After the war, he married a deaf woman named Katherine; this is one of the earliest, and perhaps the first known, recorded marriage between two born-deaf people.
1608-1642 Rene Goupil, born in France, was possibly hard of hearing rather than deaf. He was first a surgeon, then entered a Jesuit novitate in 1639 in Paris, but had to withdraw because he had become deaf and they would not accept deafness in a priest candidate. He instead became a layman working with Jesuit missionaries in Canada, 1640-1642. He and other Jesuits were caught in a war between Huron and Iroquois (Mohawk) Indians and captured by the latter. A few days later, he was killed when an Indian saw him making the sign of the cross over a Mohawk child. Goupil and 7 other martyred Jesuits were canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930.
1610-1664 Luis de Velasco was a deaf great-nephew of Francisco de Tobar (above). He was the first student taught by Juan Pablo Bonet; later, Manuel Ramirez de Carrión continued Velasco's education. Luis de Velasco is the first recorded instance of a superb lipreader, supposedly able to reproduce perfectly anything spoken to him, even in unfamiliar languages.
ca. 1618 AD The first known American deaf person was a Native American, name and tribe unknown. He was mentioned in an 1618 book published in Europe, that contained a letter from the Jesuit fathers of an American mission station inquiring whether a deaf Indian could be admitted to the Catholic church. Nothing else is known of this person nor of the Church's response.
1613-1657 Jan Jansz. [Janszoon] was a born-deaf Dutch painter, nicknamed "De Stomme" (the mute), who was noted for his portraits.
fl. 1615 The deaf Marquis de Priego (first name not known) was taught speech by Manuel Ramirez de Carrion at Montilla, Spain.
fl. 1617 Gaspar de Burgos is said to have been the most successful pupil of Pedro Ponce de Leon. Burgos became a manuscript writer and painter of miniatures in Spain.
1620-1671 Sir Edward Gostwicke, third Baronet of Willington, Bedfordshire, England, was born deaf and succeeded to the baronetcy at age 10; his younger brother William was also deaf, and both used sign language with each other and with family members and friends. John Bulwer's book Philocophus, or the Deafe and Dumbe Man's Friende (1648) was dedicated to these two deaf brothers.
1625?-1704 Alonso del Arco was a Spanish painter, nicknamed "El Sordillo de Pereda". Some source say he was born deaf, possibly in Madrid; others say he was deafened in a house fire. He may have been taught by Juan Pablo Bonet or by Antonio de Pereda. He painted several arches in the royal palace and several portraits of the king; some of his works are in a museum at Madrid and in public buildings throughout Spain.
1628-1709 Emmanuel Philibert de Carignan was born deaf into a noble family of Italian descent, at Moutiers, France (he was baptized as Emmanuele Filiberto Armedee de Carignano). A pupil of early deaf educator Manuel Ramirez de Carrion at Madrid; Emmanuel succeeded his father as second Prince of Carignan; in 1698, he became a French citizen. He commissioned the construction of the Palazzo Carignano in Italy (begun 1679).
1636-1695 Daniel Whalley was born at Northampton, England, prelingually deaf. His wealthy family engaged Dr. John Wallis to teach Daniel to speak, read and write. A year later, Wallis also began teaching Alexander Popham (below). Although "exhibited" before King Charles II and other notables, Whalley appears never to have been successful in supporting himself, and he was also shortchanged of his inheritances from both father and mother, his hearing siblings being favored instead.
1639-1708 Sir John Gaudy, deaf son from a wealthy Norfolk, England family, was tutored at home, probably by John Cressener, together with his deaf brother Framlingham Gaudy (below). He had two hearing brothers, but when both hearing brothers died in a smallpox epidemic, John inherited the baronetcy. John also took some art tutoring, but plans to become a professional painter were dropped when he became baronet. His will (written 1672) is the first one known to have been written by a deaf person. He is also recorded as having used sign language.
1640?-? Ferdinand Beurer was a German engraver/artist, born at Hilpoldstein and living and working in Nuremburg,.who produced the earliest known self-portrait of a deaf person, an engraving done possibly around 1665.
1640?-? Martha Hatfield was the first identified deaf-blind person in British history, and possibly the first in the world known by name. Born at Luton (Leighton), Yorkshire; became temporarily deaf and blind at age 11 from unknown causes. She recovered, but the duration of her affliction is not known, nor is there any record of the rest of her life.
1642?-? Boelema de Stomme (a.k.a. Boelsema de Stomme) was a deaf Dutch painter noted for his still lifes.
1642-1673 Framlingham Gaudy was the deaf younger brother of John Gaudy (above). Tutored at home like his deaf older brother, he went on to study art, intending to become a professional painter, but an attack of smallpox weakened his health and he died young and unmarried, at age 31. Indirect recorded evidence shows that Framlingham probably used sign language like his brother John.
1645-1696 Jean de la Bruyere was a hard of hearing Frenchman who was tutor/librarian in the household of the Prince de Conde. He is best known for his satirical writing, Les caracteres de Theopraste.
fl. 1648 Master Babington (first name not recorded), a deaf resident of Burntwood, England, was described by John Bulwer as having become so proficient in the use of a manual alphabet, "contryved on the joynts of his fingers", that his wife could converse with him easily, even in the dark.
1649-1708 Alexander Popham, born deaf at Minehead, Somerset, England, is claimed (together with Daniel Whalley, above) to be the first born-deaf British person to have been taught to speak, by William Holder beginning in 1659. Unsatisfied with Holder's work, Popham's family then sent him to John Wallis, who had already been instructing Daniel Whalley (above), but seems not to have made much more progress despite being paraded before King Charles II and other notables. He later married a woman, apparently hearing, and had four children, all also hearing.
1653-1716 Joseph Sauveur was born deaf at La Fleche, France. Despite his deafness, he became a royal professor of mathematics and inspector of engineers, and established the science of musical acoustics.
1663-1705 Guillame Amontons was the first deaf physicist in history. He invented a hygrometer, and was a member of the prestigious French Royal Academy of Sciences.
1666 Samuel Pepys, the English writer famous for his Diary, wrote that on November 9, 1666, he met a deaf boy (name not recorded) at a dinner where he (Pepys) was the guest and the host was a Mr. Downing. Downing talked with the boy in sign language. Peter Jackson, in A Pictorial History of Deaf Britain (2001), notes that this may have been the Old Kentish sign language that was later brought to America and became the Martha's Vineyard sign language.
1667-1745 Jonathan Swift, the famous writer, was very hard of hearing. Born in Ireland of English parents, he graduated Trinity College in Dublin. Deafness began about age 20, probably from Meniere's disease. He moved to England about 1688 or 1689; became secretary to the statesman Sir William Temple, 1689-1699, then a minister in the Anglican Church of Ireland, 1695. Political pamphleteer during the early 1700s; became dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. Writer of Gulliver's Travels (1726), "A Modest Proposal" (1729), and other works, he is best known for his satires. One of his poems is "On His Own Deafness".
fl. 1668 Pedro el Mudo was a "colorist" (painter) in Madrid, Spain.
1669-1749 Etienne de Fay was the first known deaf teacher of the deaf. Apparently born deaf into a wealthy French family, a native of Amiens. It seems that he was taught beginning at age 5 by a monk at the Abbaye de Saint-Jean in Amiens, where he then taught other deaf pupils himself for 8 years. De Fay lived in the abbey all his life, and apparently used sign language. His surname is sometimes also spelled Defaye in old records.
1670?-1732 Benjamin Ferrers, who has been described by Peter Jackson as "the father of [British] deaf art", painted mainly portraits and scenes from Chancery Court.
1680?-1730 A deaf mystic and soothsayer, Duncan Campbell, may be the first deaf person to have an entire book written about him, though it is not clear how much of the book is true and which parts may be invented. Campbell allegedly was born deaf in Lapland, to a shipwrecked Scottish father and a Lapp mother. After his mother died, his father brought the boy back to Scotland. Campbell was taught to read by a professor at the University of Glasgow, claimed to have powers of "second sight" and prediction inherited from his mother, and traveled widely throughout Europe at this "trade". A book, The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell... appeared in 1720, authored by Daniel Defoe (though this is sometimes disputed), likely with the help of Campbell himself. Defoe also published in 1725 The Dumb Projector; Being a Surprising Account of a Trip to Holland Made by Mr. Campbell... After Campbell's death from pneumonia, another book appeared, Secret Memoirs of the Late Mr. Duncan Campbell, the Famous Deaf and Dumb Gentleman... (1732).
1688-1747 Rene Alain Lasage was a French author and playwright who became totally deaf by 1707, about age 19. He wrote several romances, including Tuscaret and Gil Blass.
ca. 1690 Esther Collader, a deaf Dutch girl, was taught to speak by Johann Konrad Amman, who later published two books on the oral teaching methods he used with Collader.
ca. 1692 Piavu the Deaf was a painter of religious pictures in Wallachia, Romania.


* * * * * * * * * *

Prepared by Tom Harrington
Reference and Instruction Librarian
Revised September, 2006

Loading  Loading...