Every American “knows” the story of young George Washington and the cherry tree, and knows that it has no basis in fact. But how many of us have had a chance to read the original version of that story?
Here’s Mason Weems’s fable as it was published in 1809, transcribed by the George Washington Papers at the University of Virginia.
The crucial point:
The next morning the old gentleman finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house, and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him any thing about it.What will our young hero say?
Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance.
George, said his father, do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry-tree yonder in the garden?
This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment...
(Today’s picture, also courtesy of the Washington Papers at Virginia, shows Grant Wood’s painting Parson Weems’ Fable.)