The cherry tree myth is one of the most popular and enduring George Washington legends. In the story, George’s father confronts the six-year-old future hero after discovering his favorite cherry tree was nearly cut down. According to the legend, George replied, “I cannot tell a lie, I did cut the cherry tree with my hatchet.” Struck by his son’s magnanimous honesty, George’s father embraced him rather than punished him.
The cherry tree legend was first told by one of Washington’s biographers, Mason Locke Weems. Weems, who deeply admired Washington, wanted to illustrate that Washington’s incredible accomplishments were rooted in his values. Furthermore, since Washington was the subject of several biographies soon to hit bookshelves, Locke wanted to make his stand out with new and original information about George’s life.
The Silver Dollar Myth
In popular culture, Washington was said to have thrown a silver dollar across the Potomac or Delaware River. The myth likely persisted to illustrate the first president as superhuman. According to George Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, the myth is partially true even though it is likely to disappoint those who liken Washington to a super hero. The river in question was not the Potomac, nor was it the Delaware, but rather the Rappahannock, near George’s childhood home. At certain points near the Washington homestead, the Rappahannock narrows to a width of about 250 feet, where it might be possible to throw a round object across. Because the first American silver dollar was produced in 1794, when Washington was 62 years-old, the “silver dollar” may have been a rock or piece of slate.