This weeks story is about Mason Locke Weems and his telling of George Washington and the cherry tree story. Traditionally the food on Washington's birthday is cherry pie in honor of the truthful master who "could not tell a lie". It appears as though this story is a myth!
George Washington died after a ride in a particularly cold snow storm in 1799. Shortly afterwards the American public was hungry for stories of the most famous of the founding fathers who, along with Alexander Hamilton, created most of what was the USA government. Who would supply the public with the stories? Weems was ready to supply the demand. As he explained to a publisher in January 1800, “Washington you know is gone! Millions are gaping to read something about him…My plan! I give his history, sufficiently minute…I then go on to show that his unparalleled rise and elevation were due to his Great Virtues.”. The Life of Washington, was first published in 1800 and was an instant bestseller. However the cherry tree myth did not appear until the book’s fifth edition was published in 1806.
When George was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which, like most little boys, he was extremely fond. He went about chopping everything that came his way.
One day, as he wandered about the garden amusing himself by hacking his mother's pea sticks, he found a beautiful, young English cherry tree, of which his father was most proud. He tried the edge of his hatchet on the trunk of the tree and barked it so that it died.
Some time after this, his father discovered what had happened to his favorite tree. He came into the house in great anger, and demanded to know who the mischievous person was who had cut away the bark. Nobody could tell him anything about it.
Just then George, with his little hatchet, came into the room.
"George,'' said his father, "do you know who has killed my beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? I would not have taken fiveguineas for it!''
This was a hard question to answer, and for a moment George was staggered by it, but quickly recovering himself he cried:
"I cannot tell a lie, father, you know I cannot tell a lie! I did cut it with my little hatchet.''
The anger died out of his father's face, and taking the boy tenderly in his arms, he said:
"My son, that you should not be afraid to tell the truth is more to me than a thousand trees! Yes - though they were blossomed with silver and had leaves of the purest gold!''