How To Discipline An 11 Year Old Boy For Lying Cherry Tree Myth

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Cherry Tree Myth

First: George Washington did NOT cut down the cherry tree. In the fable, young Washington ‘admitted to “barking” his father’s prized youngster.

However, the whole story is a moral lesson invented by the patriot’s first biographer – a former Anglican pastor and traveling Bible salesman named Mason L. Weems.

Known throughout the country as “Parson” Weems, he wrote several books on good behavior to supplement his Bible tracts.

His most popular book was: “The Life of George Washington, with curious Anecdotes, which are alike appreciated by him, and exemplary to his young Countrymen.”

The book was published a year after Washington’s death in December 1799. It contained a lot of factual information, but it also started a few legends, which made our first president seem a bit silly.

This is unfortunate because myths have obscured the real personality of our first president. He was a man of great dignity, but a vital and emotional man. He was ambitious, hardworking and sensitive to others.

Washington’s integrity was recognized by all he met. Nevertheless, he tried to control his impetuous temper all his life.

There is no documentation for Weem’s charming cherry tree story. He writes that he heard the story from a “distant relative close to the family”.

Close relatives claimed they had never heard the story. Still, the alleged incident is in character for Washington’s childhood personality.

Until the age of 11, he was taught by his father Augustin. The elder Washington emphasized honesty and obedience—as evidenced by George’s marked textbooks and copy papers.

After his father’s death, young Washington taught himself the art of surveying. At the age of 15, he was actively engaged in that profession. This trade took him steadily to the frontier as far as Ohio and Kentucky.

In 1754, the governor of Virginia sent Washington to drive out a French force occupying a fort at the fork of the Ohio and Allegheny rivers, now Pittsburgh. A young American major is defeated and forced to sign a humiliating surrender paper. It was the beginning of the French and Indian War.

In later campaigns, George Washington acquitted himself and was selected for several important military assignments.

Washington was 44 years old and a successful tobacco planter when the American Revolution began. As such, he was reluctant to challenge the mother country militarily.

Still, he heeded the call of the Continental Congress to take control of the small army in Boston that resisted the besieged British at Bridge Hill—not Bunker Hill as popularly said.

It took an honest man to face the reality of an irrevocable break with Great Britain – to take on the dangers and hardships of creating a new nation against armed might.

The War of Independence is now remembered as the Revolutionary War. In fact, it was our most unpopular war — the Civil War and the Vietnam War notwithstanding. Many colonists were loyal to England and bitterly opposed separation.

Washington’s patience and persistence made a great success in a bad war. He rightly deserves the title: “Father of our country”.

It is unfortunate that his real talents and achievements have been obscured by the image of doing good that the well-meaning Parson Weems has imposed on his memory.

For example, here is the complete story of the cherry tree as told by the enthusiastic Weems:

I can’t tell a lie


“When George was about six years old he became a well-to-do master of an axe, of which, like most little boys, he was inordinately fond, and was constantly going about and cutting down everything in his way.

“One day, in the garden where he often amused himself by chopping his mother’s pea-sticks, he unhappily tried the edge of an ax on the body of a beautiful young English cherry tree, which he barked so terribly that I do not believe the tree was ever better than that.

“The next morning, the old gentleman (Washington’s father), learning what had befallen his tree—which, by the way, was a very favorite—came into the house. at the same time that he would not take five guineas for his wood.

“No one could tell him anything about it. Immediately George and his ax appeared. ‘George,’ said his father, ‘do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree over there in the garden?’

“This was a hard question, and George staggered under him for a moment, but quickly recovered himself. Looking at his father with the sweet face of youth, illumined with the ineffable charm of all-conquering truth, he boldly cried, ‘I can’t lie, papa. You know I can’t I can lie. I did it with my axe.’

“‘Run into my arms, you dearest boy,’ cried his father in the transport. ‘Run into my arms. I am glad, George, that you killed my tree for you have paid me a thousand times over. Such an act of Heroism in my it is more valuable to the son than a thousand trees, even though it blossomed with silver and their fruits of the purest gold!’

I know you were here

Parson Weems was apparently not satisfied with adequately describing all of Washington’s virtues. In the same book, he embellished it with another myth:


“One day Mr. Washington went into the garden and prepared a bed of finely divided earth. In it he wrote George’s name in full, capital letters. Then he sprinkled a lot of cabbage seeds. He covered them and smoothed them all with a roller.

“He deliberately prepared this bed with a walk from the gooseberries which he knew would be honored with George’s visits when the fruit was ripe

“It was not many mornings before George came in with wild eyes and his little cheeks ready to burst with great news.

“‘O papa! come here, come here. I will show you a sight such as you have never seen in your life.’

“The old gentleman, sensing what George was up to, gave him his hand, which he seized with great eagerness; and dragging him through the garden, he led him pointedly to a bed on which was written in large letters—and all the freshness of newly-sprouted plants— full name GEORGE WASHINGTON.

“There, papa,” said George, quite in an ecstasy of astonishment, “did you ever see such a sight in your life? Who got there?

“‘It happened to grow there, I suppose, my son.’

“Oh, papa, you mustn’t say that chance did all this. Indeed some one did; and I dare say now, papa, you only did it to frighten me because I am your little boy.”

“His father smiled and said, ‘Well, George, you guessed right. Indeed I did, but not to frighten you, my son, but to teach you a great thing that I want you to understand. I want to introduce you to my true Father. ‘

“‘Look, papa, aren’t you my real father, who loved me, and was always so good to me?’

“Yes, George, I am your father, as the world calls him. I love you very much too. But still, with all my love for you, I’m just a poor father who has nothing compared to the one you have.’

“‘Yes! I know well enough who you mean, papa. You mean Almighty God, don’t you, but where is Almighty God? I’ve never seen him yet.’

“True, my son; but though you have never seen him, he is always with you. You did not see me when ten days ago I made this little bed where you see my name in such beautiful green letters. you do not see me here, but you know that I have been here.’

“‘Yes, Dad, I know. I know you were here!’

* * *

So much for poetic license. Truth needs no mooring.

Washington was that rare historical figure – the right man at the right time in the right place. His whole life was a dedication to the greatest good for the greatest number.

It wasn’t easy for him, but he worked to discipline his flaws – replacing pride with honesty, temper with duty. His life is an example more inspiring to our own imperfect nature than the sermons of moralists.

By conflating his birthday with Abraham Lincoln’s on a convenient Presidents Day – to give us another long weekend – we may be missing out on the real lessons these great heroes left us.

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